I'm David Leonhardt, the Washington bureau chief of The New York Times, overseeing the work of our paper's reporters who cover politics and policy in the nation's capital and beyond. Previously I wrote the Economic Scene column for The Times and was a staff writer for our Magazine.

You can read my recent articles here and follow me on Twitter.

Here's verification.

Ask me anything, although I'm especially interested in talking about the debt negotiations, the 2012 election and next four years.

Update: Thanks for all the great questions everyone. I'll be starting to answer them live at 2 PM ET.

Update: It's 2 p.m. in Washington. Let's get started.

Update: 3:14 p.m. - Edit: The answer to the question about Bradley Manning is now appearing successfully in the thread below.

Thanks so much to everyone who submitted a question or read this Q&A. I'm going to get back to my day job, but I'll check back at least once more and try to answer a few more questions. -- David

Comments: 777 • Responses: 20  • Date: 

kathygnome771 karma

"You are entitled to your own opinion, but you are not entitled to your own facts." -- Why in the name of balance does the Times and really most of the mainstream media continue to allow politicians and political talking heads a platform to state things that are objectively false?

dleonhardtnyt236 karma

Great topic to start with. One of the tricky issues for mainstream journalism is the middle ground between undeniable fact and opinion. I won't spend too much time quoting my old articles, today but Lessons From the Malaise seems directly relevant to this question. In it, I wrote: "[Some] truths may not rise to the level of two plus two equals four, but they are not so different from the knowledge that the earth is round or that smoking causes cancer.

The earth is not perfectly round, of course. Some smokers will never get cancer, while most cancer is not caused by smoking. Yet in the ways that matter most, the earth is still round, and smoking does cause cancer. Both of these facts are illustrative in another way, too: seemingly smart people spent decades denying them."

It's easy for us to deal with 2+2. And it's fairly easy for us to deal with an opinion, like "This policy should pass Congress;" we also quote someone who says it shouldn't. But the gray area is harder. And yet I think we need to deal with it: we sometimes need to look for ways to say which side in a debate has more claim on the available evidence.

A question for you (or another Redditor): which things that are "objectively false" do we not do a good enough job of explaining to be such?

chipsharp0114 karma

This needs an answer.

The news media has an obligation to honor the public trust, failing to fact check (and to be clear, I do mean check in the hockey sense) public officials only allows for the waters to be made less clear with rhetoric and lies. Leaving that task to the Internet degrades the credibility of both outlets and ultimately gives the liar a free pass.

This is certainly not a problem exclusive to The NYT but as the giant in the industry you're missing a prime opportunity to set (and be) an example for your competitors.

statsisi26 karma

  1. People don't want the truth... It doesn't sell papers. They want sensationalism and things to reaffirm their opnions.

  2. I find many times in the MSM they will print things "straight from the horse's mouth" so they won't be responsible for the lies.

  3. If they are caught red handed about lying, they run a cute little piece apologizing. Problem is, these corrections are small blurbs that get passed over.

dleonhardtnyt109 karma

I disagree, respectfully, on point 1. The truth does sell papers. Whatever our flaws and sins, The Times has the audience that it does because it has built up a reputation for reporting the truth over many years. When other papers cut back during wars, the Sulzbergers expanded our news report. When the government told us not to publish the Pentagon Papers, we did anyway. Again, we have made mistakes over the years -- and they prove the point, in that they have hurt us, not helped us.

This election brought one more example. Despite enormous criticism, Nate Silver and Micah Cohen, on the 538 blog, continued to talk in a straightforward way about what the polls were showing. They were simply reporting the truth, and it looks very good in retrospect.

tinyirishgirl25 karma

And why did the paper of record allow Bush to lie us into war?

dleonhardtnyt38 karma

I'm not sure I can improve on what's already been written on the subject, including The Times and Iraq - NYTimes.com and THE PUBLIC EDITOR; Weapons of Mass Destruction? Or Mass Distraction? - New York Times, among many other things.

bongozap13 karma

Because they're afraid that if they do that, they won't get "access."

dleonhardtnyt67 karma

We're fortunate in two ways. One, access isn't the only way to do journalism. If the Secretary of X won't talk to us, a lower-level employee in the Department of X often will.

Two, given our readership (which is way of saying thank you to all of our readers), we tend to get access even when people don't like what we write. We don't always get as much as we'd like, but we simply don't spend much time worrying about access. If anything, our reporters spend more time saying no to officials who want to talk to them than unsuccessfully trying to talk with officials who won't do so.

katz9187160 karma

Good to see you on here, David. TNR's Eliza Gray wrote today asking why NYT didn't cover Bradley Manning's recent hearing in Fort Meade, right outside DC: http://on.tnr.com/11Up9fF It was certainly newsworthy since Manning was actually there, in person, speaking for his case. I'm wondering whether you could give any insight here. Thanks, @katz.

dleonhardtnyt40 karma

Thank you.

As it happens, I just sent the following email to our public editor, Margaret Sullivan, who also asked this question:

We've covered him and will continue to do so. But as with any other legal case, we won't cover every single proceeding. In this case, doing so would have involved multiple days of a reporter's time, for a relatively straightforward story. The A.P. article recounting the main points of Mr. Manning's testimony about his conditions of confinement that ran on page A3 of The Times conveyed fundamentally the same material as a staff story would have. And Charlie Savage covered his conditions of confinement, as they were being debated, in two previous articles: http://goo.gl/dvFV0, http://goo.gl/gYTX7. Again, though, readers can definitely expect more coverage of Mr. Manning in the weeks to come.

dleonhardtnyt7 karma

Edit: We had a problem posting earlier and this was a duplicate of this answer.

dsanz888134 karma

So why isn't the NY Times covering the Manning trials? I mean you guys did use the sources.

dleonhardtnyt18 karma

ruinevil118 karma

Do you find the NYT.com paywall to be successful for the paper?

dleonhardtnyt49 karma

Yes, we do. We went to a pay model with great reluctance. ("Wall" isn't quite right word, given the various ways readers are able to get around it under certain circumstances.) But we are very pleased with how it's going. We have signed up more paying customers than we expected to have at this point, and our online traffic remains very strong.

It's a big reason I remain so confident about The Times's future. We have a very large audience, including many people who pay a substantial amount for our journalism, online or in print. That combination suggests there is a business model that will work quite well -- even if I can't predict exactly what it will be at this point.

You'd hear a more detailed answer from the people at the paper who are working on these issues. (I'm just a journalist.) But I think the bottom line would be the same.

hereImIs84 karma

I fully believe in the need for a vigilant press, but all this downsizing and shift to the web has me worried about journalistic standards.

So where do we go from here? Are we in danger of losing a responsible and reliable press?

dleonhardtnyt44 karma

I think the Web has created a more responsible press, with higher standards. Think how much easier it is for readers to point out flaws (or perceived flaws!) in a story today than in the past. You don't have to rely on our Letters to the Editor page or our Corrections process. You can write your own blog post or get the attention of a media critic (including our public editor, a job that didn't exist until a decade ago). Such criticism isn't always enjoyable -- and we don't always agree with it -- but there is little question that it makes us better at our jobs.

Beyond this new accountability, the Web has also allowed and required us to become much more innovative. Think of the tremendous interactives that Amanda Cox, Steve Duenes, Matt Ericson, Kevin Quealy and all the NYT graphics editors produce.

Or think of all the real-time political coverage that Jeff Zeleny, Jim Rutenberg, Mike Shear and others provided during the presidential debates this year. Or the columns in the Business section, most of which are relatively new. Or the videos, like the celebrated one on hockey fighting. Or the Well blog, by Tara Parker-Pope.

Whichever of these features you like or don't like, I'm utterly persuaded that The Times is a better publication than it was in the past.

science-pope36 karma

Hi, thanks very much for taking the time to do an IAMA. My questions are all about climate change:

  • Can you give us an overall picture of the state of climate change legislation in Washington?
  • Do you feel like the White House understands the scale of the threat? Does Congress?
  • Has Hurricane Sandy done anything to change minds inside the beltway?
  • Are there many people talking about the UN Climate Conference happening now in Doha?
  • Do you have a gut feeling about whether we'll see a comprehensive plan to address climate change in Obama's 2nd term?

Again, thanks!

dleonhardtnyt39 karma

I think the prospects of major climate-change legislation -- a cap-and-trade bill or carbon tax -- remain remote. There is too much opposition among Republicans (who can block it in the House) and among a subset of Democrats who represent coal or oil states in the Senate (who keep the Senate from getting to 50 votes, let alone 60). So I think it's essentially irrelevant whether Obama introduces a comprehensive bill.

But there is still a real question about how aggressively his administration will pursue other policies to address the climate. The policies the administration pursued in the first term have already had a substantial effect, playing a role in creating the recent wind and solar boom.

Will the administration push Congress to extend the wind and solar tax credit? And will Congress do so? Will Obama make a push on building standards, much as he did on fuel mileage-standards? How aggressive will the EPA be?

Even without a comprehensive bill, the White House has some big decisions about how much it wants to push on climate. I agree that Sandy makes it more likely Obama will make a push, and more likely any push would succeed. But I don't know how much more likely.

zzj34 karma

Thank you for doing this AMA, Mr. Leonhardt.

1) Are there any issues that you feel are currently being overshadowed by the "fiscal cliff" debates? If so, what are they and who do they affect the most?

2) It has been widely said that young people, women, and minorities played a major role in determining the outcome of the recent elections - both at the national and local levels. But these groups never seem to have as much influence on the day-to-day operations of government. They are still under-represented as elected officials and outfunded by lobbying groups. So they are arguably less able to participate in the discussions and debates that shape legislation. How can these people continue to have their voices heard during the actual working days between elections?

dleonhardtnyt21 karma

On point 2: the single biggest thing younger people and minorities could do to could increase their political power is to vote in the midterm elections in the same numbers they do in presidential elections.

That's not a full answer to the question, I acknowledge. Money matters too. But voter turnout is something that people can control.

maculae28 karma

Do you see the next 4 years of congress being as roadblocked as the past 4 years? Who do you think will yield first?

dleonhardtnyt33 karma

I don't think the last four years were roadblocked. The last two, yes.

But whether you think it did great harm or great good, Congress and the Obama administration passed a lot of hugely important legislation in 2009 and 2010. The health-care bill, alone, is the most significant piece of legislation in decades, both because of how it changes the safety net and because how it attempts to reduce inequality. On top of the health-care bill, there were the changes to higher education and K-12, the Dodd-Frank bill and the climate bills and regulations I mentioned in another answer.

The last two years, though, were deadlocked, because Obama and Republican leaders in Congress agreed on very little. I expect the next four year will end up somewhere in between the first two years of Obama's first term and the second two years.

The looming "fiscal cliff" means that aspects of the current tax code is likely to change significantly. And the Republicans' concerns over their image among Latino voters means some kind of immigration bill seems likely to pass too.

shabazz_k_morton25 karma

I am a young budding journalist. I am confronted by many differing opinions on what is to become of print journalism as blogs and Twitter seem to be taking much of the gusto of newspapers. Give us a forecast on the future of Journalism, the printed word, and comprehensive investigative reporting.

dleonhardtnyt14 karma

The future of journalism is assured, I think. Journalism -- facts and narration -- predates newspapers and will outlast newspapers.

The future of the printed word -- that is, newspapers as we know them today -- seems less certain. As a reader, I would be terribly sad not to wake up to printed copies of the NYT and Washington Post, among other papers. As a writer and editor, I don't have a preference about whether people are reading our journalism on paper or a screen.

WhatIsTheQOfLife19 karma

What's something the average redditor can do about the sad state of journalism in the US?

dleonhardtnyt22 karma

Read good journalism. And support it economically: subscribe to publications you value (in print or online). If a publication doesn't charge, make a point of clicking on ads that catch your interest.

(As I say above, I don't actually think the state of journalism is sad. It's imperfect but better than ever.)

reddit2000219 karma

Buy newspapers.

hornwalker20 karma

Correction: Buy good newspapers

dleonhardtnyt16 karma

Exactly. Magazines, too.

reddit2000216 karma

How do you navigate through the pack mentality and inherent spin that comes with covering the political beat to get at the so-called real stories?

And related to that- how much of the reporting that comes out of the Washington bureau are stories that your staff develops on their own vs. pitches that come from flacks or soundbites from press conferences?

Any reaction to the New York Post's decision to run a photo of a man about to be struck (and killed) by a train yesterday?

How has Twitter and social media impacted long form reporting? Clearly, there's a need for print media to adapt to social media and twitter's a great resource for breaking news but does it hurt objectivity and exclusive scoops when journalists tweet snarky real time observations / and teasers?

Related to that- on the Internet, everyone is snarky- do you feel this has bled over to print? Wonkette's funny, but I value straight news and analysis vs. cleverness for pageviews sake. Has the internet made it impossible to be objective? Is it better journalism when- as some argue- people identity their biases from the start or when reporters actively try to keep the news to the story they are reporting?

dleonhardtnyt14 karma

Lots here. On the long-form question: long-form journalism is doing quite well, in fact. Many of our 5000-word or 8000-word NYT Magazine stories end up on our online Most Read, Most Blogged or Most Emailed list. Same goes for long investigative pieces and narrative pieces in the newspaper.

I do worry, theoretically, that people will have less interest in long-form journalism on screens. I certainly prefer long stories on paper. But so far, so good for long-form journalism.

hardleaningwork15 karma

What do you think of Nate Silver?

jtorsella11 karma

Who do you think has the most to lose with the debt negotiations, and how do you see them playing out?

dleonhardtnyt13 karma

Each side has something to lose.

At any one time, there is only one president, and he tends to get credit or blame for the state of the economy. In this way, a stalemate could do great damage to Obama and his second term. Ramesh Ponnuru has made this argument, about GOP leverage.

On the other hand, Obama just won re-election, and he has public opinion on his side, at least on the high-end taxes. Early polling suggests voters are more likely to blame Republicans for a stalemate.

No_Easy_Buckets9 karma

I want to talk about the debt negotiations! Why isnt the fact that us long term debt has low yields news? Or even part of the mainstream discussion? The federal government can still borrow for a very very low price, one of the lowest prices in decades. This is unlike the European situation where debt, especially Greek debt, is very expensive for the sovereign entities. Why isn't this being discussed? We are after all about to hit a completely artificial and self inflicted barrier. Why isn't any attention paid to that? This crisis is man made not market made. Why aren't unemployment and low growth considered larger problems? Even if you think the debt "crisis" is the end of the world why do people think that we will be able to pay off our debt with a shrinking taxable base?

Over the past two years we have seen downgrades from ratings agencies on advanced industrial nations that print their own currency and are almost politically stable that have had no effect at all on those states' ability to borrow. Why aren't these simple economic indicators discussed more widely?

dleonhardtnyt9 karma

We do write about the low yields, but I'm open to the idea that we should do so more often. Thanks for the suggestion.

The United States obviously does not appear to be on the verge of a debt crisis that resembles Greece in any significant way. But we do have a serious long-term problem. As a country, we've voted ourselves more benefits -- principally Medicare -- than we are willing to finance in taxes. At some point, this gap needs to close. And for all the talk about the deficit -- from politicians, media figures and voters -- most Americans oppose tax hikes or spending cuts that personally affect them. (The next time you hear someone say politicians should just be reasonable and fix the problem, ask that person which tax increases and Medicare cuts he or she favors.)

The looming fiscal deadline is artificial in many ways. But it also represents a chance for Washington to make a dent in this problem -- or to make it worse.

yep454 karma

Where do you see the negotiations going in terms of the division within the GOP? Especially given that Boehner has been facing a lot of heat from the fiscally conservative, Tea Party wing of the party?

Better yet, do you think the outcome of the 2012 election will see the GOP going further to the right, left, or staying right where it is?

dleonhardtnyt6 karma

That's clearly one of the more important questions in Washington today.

Conservative Republicans deeply believe that their proposals are better than the president's, and the election's outcome won't change that. Many Congressional Republicans are also at little risk of losing their seat for moving too far right. If anything, they're at greater risk of facing a primary from the right.

But there are also Republican leaders who are unhappy about having lost the presidency in four of the last 6 elections. (And the two Republican wins were closer than any of the four Democratic wins; one Republican win, of course, came despite the popular vote.) They want to find a way to move to the center on a range of issues. I think that's why you see movement from the Republicans on the question of whether the government should raise more tax revenue.

A shameless plug: our Capitol Hill correspondents -- starting with Jennifer Steinhauer and Jonathan Weisman -- have been doing great work on these issues, and I encourage you to read them.