'Fourth Estate' tracks New York Times and a year with Trump

(Reuters) - “The Fourth Estate” kicks off with a somber, bemused group of New York Times journalists watching the January 2017 inauguration of U.S. President Donald Trump.

U.S. President Donald Trump arrives to speak at a Make America Great Again Rally in Washington, Michigan April 28, 2018. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

“What a story!” says New York Times executive editor Dean Baquet. “Ok, let’s go.”

So begins the Showtime documentary series that followed the New York Times for the first year of Trump’s term, tracking the challenges it met in covering an unconventional president who has labeled the press “the enemy of the people.”

“In the (2016 election) campaign we tried to cover Trump using the rules of the past, and that was wrong,” Baquet says in the first episode, screened at the Tribeca film festival last week.

Liz Garbus, director of “The Fourth Estate,” says it didn’t take long after Trump’s election win to choose the New York Times for her next subject. Trump, like Garbus, is a New Yorker and the New York Times has been one of his favorite punching bags.

“I’m the daughter of a first amendment lawyer. For me, it’s called the fourth estate for a reason. I saw that these attacks on the free press were going to continue and that this newspaper was going to be a particular target,” Garbus said.

“There are fewer and fewer institutions that can do rigorous, investigative journalism, and the Times is one of them,” she said.

“The Fourth Estate” captures the inner workings of the Times as news breaks hourly from the White House, and how two weeks into Trump’s presidency the newspaper formed an investigative team to dig into allegations that the Trump campaign colluded with Russia. Trump has denied any collusion with Russia.

Earlier this month, the New York Times and the Washington Post shared a Pulitzer Prize for their coverage of the investigation into Russian involvement in the 2016 election.

“The Fourth Estate” also looks at the personal toll on reporters, editors and their families from the long hours spent covering the White House.

“It just never stops. It’s been exhausting, overwhelming, frustrating, maddening,” says Washington bureau chief Elisabeth Bumiller in the documentary.

Garbus said what impressed her most from her year with the Times was its high standards on sourcing and fact checking.

“It literally flies in the face of criticism of ‘fake news’ when you see how rigorous they are before anything ends up in that newspaper,” she said.

“The Fourth Estate,” which consists of four episodes, will be broadcast on Showtime starting May 27.

Reporting by Jill Serjeant