The NYT gave an analysis of changing attitudes towards trade agreements that completely misrepresented the key issues at stake. The headline pretty much said it all, "both parties used to back free trade. Now they bash it."
In fact, the current round of deals being negotiated, most importantly the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Pact (TTIP) have little to do with a conventional free trade agenda of lowering tariff barriers and eliminating quotas. With few exceptions, these barriers are already low or have been eliminated altogether.
Rather these deals are about putting in place a regulatory agenda that is being designed to foster corporate interests. The deals provide a backdoor around the normal legislative process, since many of these measures would not receive the support of democratically elected officials.
The agreements are also protectionist in important ways, making patent and copyright protections stronger and longer. (It doesn't matter if you like these government granted monopolies, they are still protectionist.)
These deals are being largely negotiated in secrecy, with most of the input coming from top corporate executives. Then they are pushed on to the American public as all or nothing propositions, with the proponents arguing not only the economic merits, but rather claiming they are a geo-political necessity.
In the case of the TPP, the Obama administration is now contending that the defeat of the agreement would be devastating to efforts to maintain an alliance of countries to contain China. If this is in fact true, then it is understandable that the public would be outraged over the administration's decision to let corporate interests get all sorts of special favors included in a deal that the administration now says is essential for national security.
It is incredible that the NYT tried to present the current debate as a narrow one over traditional issues of trade and protection. This is obviously not the case and there are no shortage of experts who could have explained this fact to its reporter. A good place to start would be the Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman, who also happens to be a NYT columnist. Joe Stiglitz, another Nobel Prize-winning economist, could have also explained the nature of these trade agreements to its reporter.
It would be great if the paper tried to do serious reporting on trade rather than just repeating long outdated nonsense about free traders vs. protectionists.