NY Times exec editor on Donald Trump's meeting with editorial board

New York Times executive editor Dean Baquet declined to clear up reports and controversy surrounding a closed-door meeting between Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump and the Times editorial board, calling it "much ado about nothing."

"I'm going to honor the off-the-record that the editorial board put in place," Baquet, who sat in on the meeting, said Thursday on "CBS This Morning."

Buzzfeed questioned whether the conversation undermined Trump's stand on his defining issue: immigration. On Monday, the media organization reported:

"The New York Times is sitting on an audio recording that some of its staff believes could deal a serious blow to Donald Trump, who, in an off-the-record meeting with the newspaper, called into question whether he would stand by his own immigration views."

"The reason, for the record, why these are off the record -- candidates come in and pitch the Times to support, to endorse them. They're open, free-wheeling conversations," Baquet explained.

Part of the controversy, however, arose because the meeting wasn't entirely off the record. New York Times released portions of what Trump said regarding tariffs on Chinese exports.

"He asked that some things be put on the record, Trump did. So he opened the door. He said, 'I'm happy to talk some things on the record,'" Baquet said.

It was the only time Baquet had been to one of these meetings, he said.

"I asked to go frankly because I had not seen Donald Trump in 20 years, and I thought it would be interesting to see him. So [Times editorial page editor] Andy Rosenthal in his good graces let me go," Baquet said.

Baquet said he had no idea who leaked information from the meetings to Buzzfeed, but he said there were about 30 people in the room, including Trump's team.

"It got talked about in the newsroom -- that's probably not a good thing. I may have even talked about it, to be frank. That's probably not a good thing," Baquet said. "On the other hand, I also think it's much ado about nothing."

Trump's rivals are demanding that Trump allow the Times to release the audio of the meeting. Asked whether the Times would comply if Trump agreed to it, Baquet said the decision is Rosenthal's.

"Even [though] I was present, and I agreed to the circumstances, it wasn't my meeting. If I had to do it over again, by the way, I probably shouldn't go to meetings like that," Baquet said.

As a journalist, he said he wanted to see how Trump looked in front of the Times editorial board, which Trump has a "love-hate relationship with."

"On the one hand, he's a New York figure, and like a lot of New York figures, he trashes the New York Times in public, but he's deeply respectful of the New York Times in private. I wanted to see that show. And that's a different show than being on the phone with him, and I couldn't resist."

Baquet also discussed the future of the newspaper, which currently has over a million digital-only subscribers and 1.1 million people who subscribe to both digital and print.

"The New York Times is making a very powerful bet, and most other news organizations have not made the bet, and the bet goes like this: We will make it to the future as a high quality journalistic institution, without compromise, without slipping into gossip. And so that's - this is an interesting, I think, historical bet. And what will it take to do that? It'll take, first, sticking to our guns. We will cover big, ambitious stories in big, ambitious ways. And we have already embraced new technologies and new ways to tell stories and do them consistent with the values of the New York Times," Baquet said.

Virtual reality storytelling has been a recent focus for the Times, with half a million people having downloaded their virtual reality app, Baquet said. It was particularly powerful to watch a virtual reality piece on a Trump rally, he shared.

"It was the first time I sat there and said, 'No wonder he thinks he can win'... It was huge," Baquet said.