NY Times reporter called Trump 'racist,' said RNC staffers were 'complicit'

Jonathan Martin, the national political correspondent of The New York Times, called Donald Trump a “racist” and “fascist” during two campaign conversations with a Republican National Committee staff member, according to people with direct knowledge of the exchanges.

Martin said that those working for the presidential candidate were “complicit” in his racist campaign, these people said.

I first reported these heated conversations in my forthcoming book, “Media Madness: Donald Trump, The Press and the War Over the Truth.” Two more sources have now emerged to confirm the account. 

The new information comes as Martin, who is also a CNN analyst, is strongly disputing the account.

One of the new sources is a former senior RNC communications official who was in the room when one of the calls took place. The other is a current RNC official who was immediately briefed on both calls and took the matter to Sean Spicer, the former White House press secretary who was then the committee’s communications director and chief strategist.

In reporting the book, which will be published Monday, I spoke with two other former RNC officials who declined to be identified -- including the staffer who had the tense conversations with Martin.

Here is how I described what happened in the book:

Weeks before the convention, an RNC staff member called Martin one night to challenge one of his stories. The reporter shot back, “You’re a racist and a fascist; Donald Trump is a racist and a fascist, we all know it, and you are complicit. By supporting him you’re all culpable.”

During the fall campaign, the party staffer called him again, and Martin accused the staffer—and everyone working on Trump’s behalf—of supporting a racist campaign and a racist candidate.

This time the staffer was distraught and relayed the conversation to the boss, Sean Spicer. Spicer called a top Times editor and unloaded about Martin’s behavior. The editor thanked Spicer for the information.

Half an hour later, Martin called Spicer and demanded: “How dare you go behind my back? What are you doing calling one of my editors?”

“Excuse me,” Spicer replied, “you call one of my people and say this and I don’t have a right to complain?”

The former senior communications official told me yesterday after leaked reports from the book that he was in the room when the second call was made and that the staffer “hung up the phone with Jonathan” and was “visibly shaken” by the conversation with Martin.

“I just got off the phone with Jonathan Martin of The New York Times,” he said the staffer told him. Martin said the staffer was “supporting a racist” and was “complicit” in the campaign’s message, this official said in recounting the conversation. He also recalled the staffer saying Martin had used the word “misogynist” in describing Trump and his campaign.

Spicer, according to this official, told him he had called Martin’s editor at the Times, Carolyn Ryan, “and reported this flagrant conduct.” I had emailed Ryan, then the paper’s senior editor for politics, about the matter but did not receive a response.

The current RNC official said today that the ex-staffer was “very upset” after both conversations with Martin, and told him directly how the reporter had accused Trump of being “racist” and GOP employees helping him of being “complicit.” This person said he was “furious” at hearing this and discussed it with Spicer, “who took it up the chain at The Times.”

Martin, a veteran, well-respected reporter who previously worked for Politico, declined several opportunities to comment for the book.

In comments to Politico, Martin said: “Howie paraphrased a vague, preposterous-sounding quote to me that I told him sounded ridiculous and not the kind of thing I’d say. He couldn't tell me who I purportedly said it to, but said he'd see what more he could tell me and get back to me. I never heard another word from him after that. And I still have no idea what he or Sean Spicer are talking about.”

Martin gave a stronger comment to CNN, saying: “Of course I didn't yell ‘you're a racist and a fascist’ or ‘you are complicit’ or ‘you're all culpable’ at anybody. Does that sound like me? More to that point, do those sound like real life lines any human being in the news business would use?”

Since Martin has decided to discuss our conversations last fall, I feel he has waived the right to keep them off the record, as I had done at his request.

He repeatedly said he did not recall saying such things to the RNC staffer or the confrontational call with Spicer. He said several times that he could not imagine himself saying something like that. But he didn’t flatly deny it.

That remained his position as I went back to him with more information, while protecting the identities of my confidential sources. I kept urging him to say anything he wanted for the book and I would include it, but he insisted on staying off the record.

Finally, when I asked for a final discussion on Oct. 28, he emailed me to say “i’ll call mon if that ok.” I agreed but told him that I was “up against a deadline.” He never called.

Asked whether the New York Times is looking into the matter, a spokesperson for the paper said in a brief statement: "Jonathan Martin is the only reliable source involved in that story."

Howard Kurtz is a Fox News analyst and the host of "MediaBuzz" (Sundays 11 a.m.). He is the author of five books and is based in Washington. Follow him at @HowardKurtz. Click here for more information on Howard Kurtz.