New York Times executive editor Dean Baquet and MSNBC president Phil Griffin met last week amid tensions between their two news organizations.
But the lengthy lunch did not resolve the issues at hand, according to four sources with knowledge of the sit-down. The executives remain at an impasse.
The specific issue is about television appearances by Times reporters on Rachel Maddow’s MSNBC show. The larger issue is about the line between news versus opinion on cable networks, including CNN.
The dust-up dates back to May 30, when Vanity Fair caused a ruckus by reporting that Times management wants reporters to “steer clear of any cable-news shows that the masthead perceives as too partisan.”
“The Rachel Maddow Show” is evidently one of those shows — and Maddow is not happy about it. The prime time host prides herself on her support for newspaper journalists.
In one episode that sparked workplace gossip, Times finance editor David Enrich was told to cancel a planned appearance on Maddow last month.
Baquet confirmed he had concerns in a message to The Daily Beast on May 31. “We have always had a rule saying reporters should be wary of going on very clearly opinionated shows,” Baquet said. “It isn’t meant as a commentary on any show, just our view that hard-hitting stories like the ones we are doing should stand on their own.”
The night Baquet said that, Maddow pointedly had a guest from the Washington Post on her show instead.
MSNBC hasn’t said anything publicly since the initial reports in May, but the Times policy has caused consternation behind the scenes at the cable network. “It’s poorly executed and poorly thought through,” one of the MSNBC staffers said.
“It’s absurd,” said another.
The staffers spoke on condition of anonymity because they said public comments might inflame tensions further.
Both sides rely on each other: Cable networks like MSNBC lean heavily on guests from newspapers like The Times, and newspapers benefit from the television and social media exposure.
But editors at The Times are trying to be more consistent about “enforcing our long-standing rules,” as one source put it.
The Times declined to comment on the recent meeting or the current complaints from MSNBC staffers.
But Baquet previously explained his thinking to The Daily Beast this way: “We will still appear on television when invited. It’s the most sharply opinionated shows that give me pause. I’m not sure which shows we will avoid. The line is increasingly blurred. Again, this is not an assault on our television compatriots. It’s my strong view that opinion and news need to be separated.”
Vanity Fair reported that Maddow; MSNBC’s “The Last Word with Lawrence O’Donnell;” and “CNN Tonight with Don Lemon” are three shows that are being given the cold shoulder by The Times.
If they are, though, not everyone is aware of it. Several Times staffers said they are in the dark about the new rules. It appears to be a “preference” more than a “ban.”
Complicating matters further: Numerous Times reporters are also paid contributors to MSNBC and CNN. For example, Matthew Rosenberg and Mark Mazzetti of The Times, who are also paid by CNN, have both appeared on “CNN Tonight” in recent days.
CNN declined to comment on the booking relationship with The Times.
Lemon told The Daily Beast last month, “I do not get the sense that they are banning reporters from my show. But, I don’t work for the Times so I can’t be sure. However, it would be extremely shortsighted if they are when journalism is under attack. We should support each other. Period.”
Griffin relayed a similar message when meeting with Baquet last week, two of the sources said.
“This is bigger than ratings,” one of them said.
Griffin stood up for for Maddow and pointed out how much she respects journalists and news outlets like The Times. In this way, she is the polar opposite of her 9 p.m. rival Sean Hannity on Fox News, another one of the shows that would be subject to The Times’ guidelines.
In practice, Times journalists are rarely if ever booked on Fox talk shows, so the guidelines have not come into play. But they are booked on CNN and MSNBC shows on a daily basis.
And “it’s hard to draw the lines,” a person familiar with the matter acknowledged.
MSNBC blurs the lines between news and liberal opinion in ways that conservative hosts on Fox frequently criticize. On Tuesday, for instance, Maddow was announced as one of the moderators of the year’s first Democratic primary debate.
On Tuesday night Hannity mocked the news and attacked her — wryly pointing out that he doesn’t host debates on Fox.
But Maddow’s fans say she is nothing like Hannity. Some of them have criticized The Times for its decision via social media. So these tensions aren’t going anywhere anytime soon.