The free press and Trump, and me

The Boston Globe reports:

Around 200 news publications across the United States have committed to a Boston Globe-coordinated effort to run editorials Thursday promoting the freedom of the press, in light of President Trump’s frequent attacks on the media.

Some of the most respected and widely circulated newspapers in the country have committed to taking a stand in their editorial pages, including The New York Times, The Dallas Morning News, The Denver Post, The Philadelphia Inquirer, and the Chicago Sun-Times. The list ranges from large metropolitan dailies to small weekly papers with circulations as low as 4,000.

The Globe initiative comes amid the president’s repeated verbal attacks on journalists, calling mainstream press organizations “fake news” and “the enemy of the American people.” Tensions came to a boil in early August when CNN reporter Jim Acosta walked out of a press briefing after White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders refused to refute Trump’s “enemy of the people” comments.

‘‘We are not the enemy of the people,’’ Marjorie Pritchard, deputy managing editor of the Globe’s opinion page, told the AP last week.

The Globe’s request to denounce the “dirty war against the free press” has been promoted by industry groups such as the American Society of News Editors, as well as regional groups like the New England Newspaper and Press Association. The request also suggested editorial boards take a stand against Trump’s words regardless of their politics, or whether they generally editorialized in support of or in opposition to the president’s policies.

‘‘Our words will differ. But at least we can agree that such attacks are alarming,’’ the Globe appeal said. …

Pritchard previously said the decision to reach out to newspapers was reached after Trump appeared to step up his rhetoric in recent weeks. He called the media “fake, fake disgusting news” at an Aug. 2 rally in Wilkes-Barre, Pa.

‘‘Whatever happened to the free press? Whatever happened to honest reporting?’’ he asked at the rally, pointing to journalists covering the event. ‘‘They don’t report it. They only make up stories.’’

Pritchard said she hoped the editorials would make an impression on Americans.

‘‘I hope it would educate readers to realize that an attack on the First Amendment is unacceptable,’’ she said. ‘‘We are a free and independent press; it is one of the most sacred principles enshrined in the Constitution.’’

If you are a supporter of the free press specifically and the First Amendment generally, then you should accept the existence of, if not agree with, opposing points of view — in this case, Patricia McCarthy:

[Pritchard’s] big idea is her response to President Trump’s relentless attack on those among the media who relentlessly publish fake news.  Trump has never said all of the media are disingenuous, or that all of the media publish and promote fake news.  He clearly goes after the news outlets who do: CNN, MSNBC, ABC, NPR, CBS, NBC, NYT, WaPo, L.A. Times, and too many others.

The president is targeting what has become known as the mainstream media, the MSM, or the “drive-bys,” as Rush Limbaugh rightfully calls them.  They are clones of one another.  There is not an original thought or idea among their “reporters.”  Their reporters are not journalists in any sense of the word.  They all take their marching orders from the leftists who head up each of these organizations.  Throughout the 2016 presidential campaign, not one of them deviated from the Clinton campaign party line.

Ms. Pritchard, then, is working hard to prove Trump’s point.  He rages against the leftist machine that is the MSM, and she is bound and determined to prove him right for all to see.  She, and all those editors who are jumping onto her bandwagon, is playing right into his hands.  How clueless can these anti-Trumpers be?  They are mind-numbed idiots, so easily trolled by the master.  They see themselves as defenders of the free press!

The only free press today is vast, available to all of us, and thoroughly outside their realm of conformity.  They think they matter; they have yet to grasp the fact that they are largely irrelevant.  Jim Acosta thinks he is a reporter; he is a rude clown, subservient to tyrants, disrespectful to Trump and Sarah Sanders.  He actually thinks people care what he says, does, or thinks.  They do not.  He is a joke.

Since interest has dimmed in Stormy Daniels and her “creepy porn lawyer,” as Tucker Carlson has dubbed him, the new star the MSM are celebrating is the pathetic Omarosa Manigault Newman, with her book of lies and accusations that everyone knows are fabricated.  The anchors on all the MSM outlets know exactly who and what she is but are wooing her in the hope that she will be the one to take Trump down.  They never give up.  They never learn.  From the Access Hollywood tape to Omarosa, they are confident that each new lowlife with a story to tell will be the one to overturn the election.  They are like Energizer bunnies; they have motors but no brains.  They never give up, no matter how ridiculous the attacks on Trump become.  In short, they are utter fools.

Ms. Pritchard says newspapers use “differing words.”  Uh, no, they don’t.  They use the same words.  Just as that JournoList functioned under Obama, talking points went out, and they all repeated them verbatim.  These people do not think for themselves.  Throw a differing, conservative opinion at them, and they cry racism.  That is their only defense, no matter how specious.

Conservatives are looking forward to Thursday’s coordinated anti-Trump editorials.  We will have a definitive list of news outlets to never trust again because they will have revealed themselves to be unthinking soldiers in a nasty war against a man for whom over sixty million Americans voted to be their president.  So far, he has been a truly terrific president.  He has accomplished more good for the nation than either Bush or Obama did in sixteen years.

  • Economy great thanks to tax cuts and de-regulation.
  • Unemployment at lowest point ever, for blacks and Hispanics, too.
  • Food stamp use down by a few million.

The man who has accomplished all this in nineteen months is whom they want to destroy.  What does that tell us about who the left is today?  Leftists do not have the country’s best interest at heart.  Their hatred of this man motivates them in a most destructive way.  Let those hundred or so newspapers follow Pritchard’s orders and publish their anti-Trump op-eds on Thursday.  They will be demonstrating for all to see just how right Trump is when he calls out the perpetrators of fake news.

McCarthy’s piece is an opinion. So is whatever those 200 newspapers write today and this week.

One of Wisconsin’s best weekly newspapers wrote this piece this week on its opinion page, patriotically called The First Amendment, that its veteran award-winning editor doubts fits into what the Globe has in mind.

As someone who has been doing this crap — I mean, has been a journalist — for three decades, I have trouble fitting in on this subject, which I will attempt to explain here.

Is the free press vital to this democratic republic? There is absolutely no question that it is. Trump specifically and whichever party and politicians in power conveniently forget that, or don’t want that to be the case, far too often. But Trump isn’t the first president to try to prevent the press from doing its job, though he probably has been the most verbal about it. (Other than Harry S. Truman, who once threatened to punch out Washington Post music critic Paul Hume for the latter’s uncomplimentary review of Truman’s daughter’s performance. Trump hasn’t gone that far. Yet.)

Should Trump not say bad things about the news media? Well … I don’t care what Trump or any other politician says about the media generally or myself specifically. I really don’t. Once upon a time when journalists had more backbone than today, nasty comments from politicians were something a journalist should put on his or her résumé.

Our job as journalists is to hold the powerful accountable, regardless of party or lack of party. Politicians, law enforcement, the criminal justice system, the educational system and every other level and function of government everywhere do their work with our tax dollars, and for that reason alone the free press is necessary to make sure they’re doing what they should be doing, and not doing what they should not be doing.

Freedom of the press is part of the First Amendment. The First Amendment does not belong just to the press. It belongs to all Americans, and if it doesn’t, then it’s just almost-illegible words on old paper. The Wisconsin Constitution’s free-expression protections also belong to all Wisconsinites, as do the state Open Meetings Law and Open Records Law.

There seems to be a bit of a misunderstanding today about the media and its history on the subject of reporter bias. The period where the media was seen as impartial is not that old in American history.

To too many people “unbiased” actually means “biased in favor of my point of view.” Does this strike you as unbiased?

How about this?

In the middle of ABC-TV’s coverage of Robert F. Kennedy’s assassination, Howard K. Smith and Frank Reynolds practically demanded Congress pass gun control. So did Cronkite on CBS even though, of all people, Dan Rather correctly pointed out that the gun control measures then in Congress wouldn’t have prevented either Kennedy assassination.

All you need see for evidence of previous institutional press bias is see the number of newspapers with the words “Democrat,” “Republican,” “Progressive” or similar words. And even when those words weren’t in the names of the newspapers, there have usually been conservative newspapers (the Chicago Tribune, Milwaukee Sentinel, Wisconsin State Journal, and once upon a time the Los Angeles Times) and liberal newspapers (the New York Times, Milwaukee Journal and The Capital Times) in multiple-newspaper markets. The State Journal is unquestionably more liberal than it was now that it’s the only daily newspaper in Madison, while The C(r)apital Times is still as lefty as always, including in its news coverage. (One associate editor wrote in a news story “the so-called Moral Majority,” which is an error because that was the group’s name, and the writer’s opinion of it didn’t belong in a news story.)

Remember these good old days?

My suspicion is that what’s written today and this week is going to be read as nothing more than ripping on Trump (particularly in the opinion of those sympathetic to views like McCarthy’s), and will give an unrealistically gauzy view of the news media, with related offended whining that people fail to worship the media’s work (this, for instance), accompanied by hand-wringing that Trump and his supporters are destroying democracy. (They aren’t and won’t.)

Truth be told, the media has a lot of flaws today, and this campaign might be one of them. For one thing, it’s practically impossible for me, someone who has worked for low pay but long and irregular hours in the First Amendment Wars, to think I have very much in common with Acosta, Pritchard or people who get their paychecks from big media, even though I used to work for one of this country’s biggest (at the time) media companies. They get paid an order of magnitude more than I do in much better conditions with much better benefits, including being wrongly famous.

Is Trump trying to control the media? Of course he is. So did his predecessor, and every president in this media age, and probably every president before that. So do most politicians. They have media relations people to feed quotes and pass on good things about their guy and bad things about the other side. They all answer questions posed by the media with answers to the questions they want to be asked, instead of what they were asked.

That, however, is part of the job, and always has been. A reporter who expects to be fed information and not have to do actual asking of questions is either lazy or a toady for whoever is in power. (Too many journalists worship at the altar of government because they cover government.)

A few things have certainly gotten worse in my professional lifetime. There have been far too many stories labeled “Analysis” that are in fact the writer’s opinion not on the opinion pages. There are far too many expressions of reporter opinion on social media, particularly on Twitter reporter accounts, when the correct number of opinions that are not labeled opinions is zero. (News-media social media should report and only report, not give the reporter’s opinion.)

Too much of this “analysis” since approximately the Clinton administration has been inside baseball — some political staffer feeds their view about the brilliant politics of (insert politician’s name here). That violates the sentence I have had printed on top of every computer I’ve had for more than 25 years — “What does this story mean to the reader?” And unless you’re a political junkie, the political fortunes of a politician are and should be about 367th in your list of important things.

There are also far too many journalists who seek to curry favor among the politically powerful. In fact, I have to wonder how much news media bitching is taking place due to failures to curry favor among the Trump administration. The Washington phrase, “If you want a friend, get a dog,” applies to journalists in state capitals, county seats and basically anywhere else.

There is a large and growing disconnect between the news media and the people we are supposed to be serving. Yes, news media people are considerably more politically liberal on average, and because of that many seem to not grasp conservative views. (Conservatives working in the mainstream media often  keep their political views secret because they think those views will hurt their career among their liberal colleagues and bosses.) The media utterly failed in not seeing the possibility of Trump’s election, and they compound that error by refusing to see why people might have voted for Trump, and that a huge number of Americans believe that government failed them under the previous administration.

But the political divide isn’t the only divide. Those readers who live in communities with newspapers or radio stations with news departments might get an education by finding out how many reporters (1) live in the community they work in, (2) have or had children, and (3) go to church regularly. That was me once upon a time, when the only thing I did among those three was live where the job was. Your view of life and what’s important, and therefore what is important news and what isn’t, changes when you have ties to a community, particularly children. And as has been pointed out on this blog, the media gets more things wrong about guns and gun control than can be listed here.

Here is a dirty little secret about Trump and the media: Trump is president today not just because he was running against Hillary Clinton and as an anti-Barack Obama vote; he is president today in large part due to the news media. Trump has been providing quotable copy and video for the media since he was a New York City developer who showed up on “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous.” The media focused on Trump in 2015 because Trump was so much more interesting than any of the other presidential candidates. Trump and the media have a symbiotic–parasitic relationship regardless of what Trump or the media say about eachother.

I sort of feel like an orphan in today’s argument, not on Trump’s side but not on the media’s side.(I can generally pick apart most publications and see their flaws.) I have, I think, more respect for the First Amendment than most journalists do anymore. I believe in giving the opposing side a voice. It’s hard to see that from the national media today.

Individual thinking is not in very much evidence today on any side of the political divide. I have always wanted to be judged on my own work, not lumped in with everyone else in the news media.

But as I wrote before, I really do not care what politicians think of the media or of me, and I have to wonder why media people care what Trump or any other politician thinks of them. I would have thought that journalists would have thick skins and not be snowflakes, but apparently I was mistaken.

In my professional life, I’ve gotten threats of various kinds, including threats to my health. I got invited by a school board president to stand in front of their table and listen to what they were saying while they were trying to skirt the Open Meetings Law. (I did.) I got publicly asked to leave a speech given by Madison Catholic Bishop Robert Morlino. (I didn’t. He did.) They didn’t, don’t and won’t faze me from doing my work. Nor will anything any politician says about the news media. We always get the last word when we want it.

 

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