A few thoughts on why Maggie Haberman triggers the reactions she does.
She’s obviously done some great reporting that we might otherwise not have gotten, but just as sources need to trust her for her to be effective, she also needs to maintain credibility and trust with readers. The smart takes like this one defending her fail to address that issue: that people who are upset with her believe she’s been derelict in her duty to report information that has some bearing on constitutional order and national security. Do journalists have such an explicit duty? I don’t think so, and I believe many journalists would agree. And yet, I think there is a line which her reporting comes dangerously close to in this regard. Would this take pass the smell test if, say, Haberman knew that Trump had sold nuclear secrets to a foreign power, and instead of calling the FBI or reporting it in real time, she held on to it for her book? Based on her behavior to date, I don’t know if I’d put that past her — and I think that’s where “trolls” are coming from. Takes like this and the defensive posture of the Times, in which that line is not acknowledged or engaged with, frustrate just as much as they educate.
I agree Haberman is a great reporter but I think this article misses some important dynamics.
The biggest is that Haberman argued with critics on Twitter constantly. She doesn’t nearly as much now but in 2018 she wrote a long article for the Times discussing this a bit. I’d be happy to pull up examples if needed but it was combative and I think got a lot of folks on her bad side. Most of the people she argued with were trolls but many had legitimate concerns (or at least ones where the answer was not obvious) and she often was dismissive. I do think this was substantively different from how most political reporters dealt with critics.
More charitably, she also mentions in her piece on leaving Twitter that her relationship with Trump was often a feedback loop since he was paying attention to her content. This often looped her into the conversation with Trump and made it seem like she was close with him in a way that was more friendly than a reporter/subject relationship. This was unfair.
The final piece is she would often break anecdotes and stories that were not in her actual reporting via tweets. I never figured out if she was reporting this information in her capacity as a Times journalist or she was tweeting things that hadn’t gotten past the copy editor. At the very least, this was stretching the boundaries of appropriate reporter twitter protocol.
Like I said at the start, she’s a terrific reporter. But I think there were some legitimate concerns with her conduct. Price of genius I suppose.
First, I think Frank is right in his comment: Haberman has mixed it up with online critics a fair amount until more recently, and has sometimes been pretty combative and defensive in doing so (in a way that is shared by the NYT's editors and senior reporters generally, who often seem astonished to be held to account on some of the same principles and issues that they are holding others to account on).
Second, if you look at the way the NYT is now explaining--and arguably constraining--the use of unnamed sources in much of its reporting, I think you could partially credit that to some of the reaction to Haberman's reportage. I think we're past the moment where you can simply defend the heavy use of unnamed sources as normal practice that produces information that we would otherwise not have gotten. All the way back to Woodward and Bernstein establishing this as the new norm that defined investigative journalism focused on politics, there have been reasons to question both the information it produces and the ethics it normalizes. (In a way, all you need to know to ask those questions is the discrepancy between Deep Throat in Woodward's reportage and the reality of Mark Felt's career and outlook.) There have just been so so many examples of reporters who have been given misleading or partial information either to allow an administration (or single political figure) a chance to test out or float a possible initiative with deniability or to allow one person inside an administration to protectively burnish their reputation by burning someone else's, where the covenant between source and journalist plainly extends to providing said burnishing.
So while it may be unfair for these doubts to land with such a resounding and exclusive thud on Haberman's doorstop, Haberman's reportage sometimes quite legitimately raises those doubts. As many people have pointed out, Haberman quite clearly flacks for Ivanka and Jared at times, much as other reporters are often trying to help Mattis, Kelly or McMaster (who, to be fair, don't seem just about trying to burnish their own reputations but also trying to take down Trump out of genuine concern for the public interest). At the least journalists in general need to push their sources to go on the public record under their own names rather than instantly and easily allowing them the option of anonymity as if that is the only possible way to get some information.
I think maybe also assuming that the information we get via that kind of reportage is what is necessary to permit criticism of the conduct of political leaders has been a consistent problem for the Times and the WaPo as a whole and betrays the extent to which their editors would also like to be insiders to power. The public transcript is often perfectly adequate for that purpose. Without any anonymous insiders at all, journalists would still have had plenty of things to say about the ongoing catastrophe of Trump's presidency--and unusually in this case, the President's own shambolic public utterances on Twitter and at rallies often made it perfectly clear what he was thinking or intending or doing, as well as who might be influencing him. The desire to get an inside perspective was at least sometimes an almost-friendly gesture that implied that somehow behind the scenes there might be some more coherent, systematic, or intentional plan that Trump himself was distracting from. The reality now seems to be the opposite: Trump didn't just say the quiet parts out loud, but what he said was a fair picture of the chaos and cruelty of much of the policy he was actually shaping.
I think if reporters like Haberman were a bit less Woodward and a bit more I.F. Stone in the sense of having a stronger game as data journalists and a bit more courage as sociopolitical critics, there wouldn't be as much concern.
Jared and Ivanka are primary sources and she outright flacks for them. They are always privately opposed to but powerless to stop any negative policy, and always the first to recognize the downside. And protecting Jared especially has caused real damage to the United States
Thanks for acknowledging the sexism component — undoubtedly at play to some degree here (yes I see you all male critics rolling your eyes, oh no, again? Yes, again, until you get it). I’m struck by your comment that “anything that comes to light in Confidence Man would have [not] altered any election outcome or criminal prosecution to any degree.” That’s exactly right. I speak as a leftist — we spent four years hoping that the next damning scandal would kick him out of the White House. None did. Criticism of Haberman’s legitimate choices as a reporter hinges precisely on that — the thought that “oh, if we had known, maybe we would’ve been able to take him down.” Except not, as we’ve seen time and again for four years and then beyond, to this day. I think we’re all pretty delusional on this front. It’s going to take a much longer time, if ever at all, for Trump to be served justice (as is unfortunately true of any manipulator/gaslighter). Haberman’s findings wouldn’t have accelerated that by a single day.
I don't buy a results-based defense of Haberman or institutionally-sanctioned access journalism. Arguing that nothing would have changed had she revealed in real time more evidence of TFG being a terrible president and horrible person suggests that she could have predicted the results of her reporting or that they should have affected her decision-making in the first place. She should have reported in real time simply because it was the right thing to do, regardless of the potential consequences.
The fear of losing access by printing something embarrassing also doesn't ring true. No one seems frightened today of publishing unflattering stories about Biden; indeed, such articles are the norm, not the exception. Plus, TFG was clearly flattered that the NYT was taking him seriously; that would have overridden any concerns that they were printing unflattering news about him. Precedent is TFG letting Bob Woodward, who'd already written one unflattering book about him, interview him for a second unflattering book; having the ear of history's most famous investigative journalist was more important to TFG than the negative impact of anything said muckraker would write about him. Also, TFG's administration seems to have been full of petty backstabbers who were only too eager to spill their guts. So there seems to have been no need to agree to set aside unflattering stories just to preserve access to TFG and his administration.
It's true, you can't rule out sexism as a motivator for Haberman's Twitter critics, but as Michael K noted elsewhere in this thread, Woodward got similar flak for saving that COVID scoop for his book instead of reporting it when it might have made a difference, not only to the election results, but in saving lives. (I remember the defense then that it wouldn't have made any difference, but as with Haberman, it still would have been the right thing to do, and it wouldn't have cost him access.)
It's also true that she and her book release are convenient foils for the critics' irritation over the NYT/WaPo White House reporting in general, or the stubbornly persistent prioritization of horse-race/access reporting/gossip over policy coverage, or the too-late recognition that TFG and his administration/party posed existential threats to democracy that rendered the old both-siderist paradigms hopelessly obsolete and inadequate. Doesn't mean those institutional criticisms are wrong, though, or that Haberman hasn't been an exemplar of all of them.
Think of reporters as herd animals and twitterites as predators. The dynamic is: go after the one in the herd who is different than the others.. Hence the attacks on Haberman and not on Peter Baker.
Part of the problem isn't the quality of her reporting but her reaction to legitimate criticism. The compromises she has made in order to stay on the good side of her sources really are problematic and her refusal to acknowledge the possibility only makes her attackers more vehement.
As a conservative I have to say that this Haberman fiasco has been quite a treat! Not only does it give me yet another arrow for my quiver when trying to convince my fellow conservatives that Trump will NEVER learn his lesson when it comes to giving leftists total access to him but it follows that up with the always entertaining spectacle of the Left eating one of their own. Tristan Snells tweet accusing her of misprision is solid Twitter gold!
Sometimes the internet decides to turn on someone for completely arbitrary and often indiscerbible reasons, just like in middle school. Another example is when Megyn Kelly interviewed Alex Jones for NBC and people savaged her for giving him a platform. The punch line: many of Kelly's critics *had themselves interviewed Alex Jones in the past*.
I regularly read a lawyers and academics blog (not that I am either of these myself). Haberman's name is rarely mentioned without sneers and vitriol. Same with the NYT generally (aka "TFNYT"). I've never understood this.
These progressive trolls couldn't care less about Maggie the journalist (much less Maggie the human being). They just want to use her for their selfish revenge fantasies they have about Trump.
Confusing. If she was covering him, she was either for him or against him. Why do people haterher? Was she not being honest enough? Too honest?
Your points 2 through 5 are all basically a tactful way of saying the Haberman-haters are idiots who have a very limited grasp on cause and effect and a seriously deficient sense of scale. It may be best to simply dismiss them without discussion. Giving them oxygen just prolongs the agony.
1) If these episodes were not disclosed earlier because it was not on the record earlier, what prevents Maggie from coming to her own defense and explaining the timing and details of how this stuff suddenly became on the record recently?
2) I recall lots of criticism and vitriol directed towards Woodward, including on Twitter, for withholding scoops for his book. The others I mostly haven't heard of. Maybe they just aren't as famous or as good at self promotion or they didn't have scoops with the same shock value?