The next time a right-winger tells you the world's best newspaper is out to get Donald Trump, mention the podcast.
Ask him if a right-wing publication would extend the same consideration to a liberal.
Or don't. The world's best newspaper and a right-wing publication are different species entirely. There is no basis to compare.
I refer to the podcast that the New York Times changed Tuesday per the White House's request.
This is all about Stephen Miller, a young right-wing zealot who is the main reason Donald Trump embraced for too long the anti-American cruelty of separating asylum-seeking parents from their young children.
A kind of Tom Cotton without as much effervescence, Miller railed against amnesty for illegal immigrants as an aide to Jeff Sessions when Sessions was a U.S. senator from Alabama who railed even about legal immigration.
Now Sessions is the attorney general who ordered the "zero-tolerance" atrocity on the border. Miller is the top policy adviser to Trump who staunchly advocated and defended Sessions' policy, filling the ear and the vacant space in the roomy brain of the pliable president.
Because it's the New York Times, the paper of record was granted a tape-recorded interview with Miller. It published an article over the weekend based on that interview.
Then, on Tuesday, the Times brought in one of the reporters who conducted the interview for a chat on its popular news-review podcast, The Daily, which is heard by about a million people five days a week.
The plan was to have the podcast presenter ask questions of the reporter and for portions of the recording of Miller's actual voice during the interview to be aired.
Hearing of that, the White House cried foul, saying no one in the Trump administration had been advised when the recorded interview with Miller was negotiated that the recording would be used in a podcast.
The Times pondered that objection, and, after a short time, announced that portions of Miller's recorded words would be read by a narrator in the podcast, much as they'd been published within quotation marks in the weekend article, but not played via recording.
As silly as the White House objections might have sounded, the Times acknowledged that a podcast use of the recorded words had not been part of the initial discussion about the purpose and use of the interview.
It was never made clear what worried the White House so.
It could have been that Miller's voice is unpleasant, as is he generally. It could have been that the White House feared the use of his actual recorded words in the podcast would risk fair context.
Or it could have been--and I would bet on this one--that the White House knew its policy was a public-opinion loser and that having a White House aide revealing his zeal by his own voice for a million listeners would complicate an already dire political predicament.
That would be especially true if the podcast aired audio of crying children wanting their moms.
Indeed, the White House finally relented on the utterly inhumane policy and practice on Wednesday.
One takeaway of this episode is that critics on the left and in the press are overreactive and overwrought in accusing the Times of giving in to official state censorship.
The byplay between a press juggernaut like the Times and the president it covers like no one else will always be delicate, mostly for the paper as it endeavors to tell the oft-dirty truth while clinging to the means by which to tell more of the oft-dirty truth in the future.
Right-wing media attacks from safe distances. Access would only get in the way of partisan convenience. A real newspaper reports from up close. Access is vital.
Sometimes you don't care. The Pentagon Papers, for example. A podcast with Miller's voice isn't the Pentagon Papers. Battles are to be picked.
Being fair or bending over to try to be fair--that's a big part of the day-to-day dance, if not the entire dance.
So, the Times did a little dance. It obliged a very hostile White House and gave up what might have been a powerful presentation of Miller's actual voice.
But it censored nary a word or thought. It quoted Miller as it chose in print and quoted him as it chose--if not how it chose--in the podcast.
It lost something stylistically, yes.
But, on this issue, there never was much chance for the White House to look any way other than the way it deserved to look, which was horrible.
John Brummett, whose column appears regularly in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, is a member of the Arkansas Writers' Hall of Fame. Email him at email@example.com. Read his @johnbrummett Twitter feed.
Editorial on 06/21/2018
Print Headline: A delicate dance