Non-conservative Jack Shafer wrote before yesterday’s coordinated media attack on Donald Trump — I mean defense of the free press:
Nothing flatters an independent journalist less than the sight of him forming a line to drink from the same fountain as his colleagues. Such a spectacle will unfold on Thursday, August 16, as 200 or more editorial pages will heed the call sounded by Boston Globe op-ed page editor Marjorie Pritchard to run editorials opposing President Donald Trump’s unrelieved press-bashing. Participating dailies include the Houston Chronicle, the Minneapolis Star Tribune, the Miami Herald and the Denver Post, as well as the Globe. Joining the movement are the American Society of News Editors and the New England Newspaper and Press Association. Dan Rather is on board, as is the Radio Television Digital News Association.
“Our words will differ. But at least we can agree that such attacks are alarming,” Pritchard’s appeal declared.
It goes without saying that press bashing, Trump-style, is alarming. His critiques rarely point to genuine inaccuracies in the press. Instead, his method is to dismiss any news that impedes his agenda or disparages him as fake and dishonest. With demagogic bluster, he routinely deploys “enemies of the people” rhetoric against journalists, which some say has inspired physical threats against journalists. Early this month, he tweeted that reporters are “dangerous & sick” and accused them of causing war (!) and purposely causing “great division & distrust.” Early in his presidency, Trump said, “I’ve never seen more dishonest media than, frankly, the political media.”
Most journalists agree that there’s a great need for Trump rebuttals. I’ve written my share. But this Globe-sponsored coordinated editorial response is sure to backfire: It will provide Trump with circumstantial evidence of the existence of a national press cabal that has been convened solely to oppose him. When the editorials roll off the press on Thursday, all singing from the same script, Trump will reap enough fresh material to whale on the media for at least a month. His forthcoming speeches almost write themselves: By colluding against me, the fake media proved once and for all, that they are in cahoots with the Democrats and have declared themselves to be my true political opposition …
The Globe’s anti-Trump project is also an exercise in redundancy, not to mention self-stroking. Most newspapers have already published a multitude of editorials and columns rebuking the president for his trash-talking of the press. Most major editorial boards opposed Trump’s election, according to this tally by Business Insider. The largest of the 19 newspapers to endorse Trump was the Las Vegas Review-Journal, owned by one of his faithful donors, Sheldon Adelson. More than 240 endorsed Hillary Clinton. Editorial-page sentiment against Trump remains largely unchanged since the election, making the call for a collective reprimand all the more pointless.
Another problem with a nationally coordinated pro-press catechism is that the audience likely to reap the greatest benefit from the haranguing—Trump and many in his base—tends not to read newspapers in the first place. While there’s always value in preaching to the choir—that’s why churches hold services every Sunday—the combined weight of 200 pro-press editorials is not likely to move the opinion needle or deter Trump from defaming and threatening reporters.
Most newspaper editorials are already a watered-down product of groupthink. It’s unlikely that expanding the size of the group and encouraging everybody to bake and serve a tuna-fish casserole on the same day will produce editorials that are more interesting and persuasive than the normal fare.
But maybe I’m wrong. If a single day of pro-press editorials is a good idea for a collective assignment, then maybe newspapers should set aside next Saturday for 200 editorials on tariffs and next Sunday for 200 editorials on global warming and next Monday for 200 editorials on Afghanistan. Surely these issues are as compelling and urgent as press freedom.
For all its faults, the American press refuses the commands from critics who would have it operate like some monolithic entity. Almost daily, our best newspapers express their independence by rejecting the marching orders issued by corporations, politicians and governments. Editorial pages of America, don’t unite! Think for yourselves! Reject this stupid pro-press assignment!
The Los Angeles Times …
More than 300 newspapers around the country will participate today in a group protest of President Trump’s frequent attacks on the news media. Each of the papers will publish editorials — their own separate editorials, in their own words — defending freedom of the press.
The Los Angeles Times, however, has decided not to participate. There will be no free press editorial on our page today.
This is not because we don’t believe that President Trump has been engaged in a cynical, demagogic and unfair assault on our industry. He has, and we have written about it on numerous occasions. As early as April 2017, we wrote this as part of a full-page editorial on “Trump’s War on Journalism”:
“Trump’s strategy is pretty clear: By branding reporters as liars, he apparently hopes to discredit, disrupt or bully into silence anyone who challenges his version of reality. By undermining trust in news organizations and delegitimizing journalism and muddling the facts so that Americans no longer know who to believe, he can deny and distract and help push his administration’s far-fetched storyline.”
We still believe that. Nevertheless, the editorial board decided not to write about the subject on this particular Thursday because we cherish our independence.
The Los Angeles Times editorial board does not speak for the New York Times or for the Boston Globe or the Chicago Tribune or the Denver Post. We share certain opinions with those newspapers; we disagree on other things. Even when we do agree with another editorial page — on the death penalty or climate change or war in Afghanistan, say — we reach our own decisions and positions after careful consultation and deliberation among ourselves, and then we write our own editorials. We would not want to leave the impression that we take our lead from others, or that we engage in groupthink.
The president himself already treats the media as a cabal — “enemies of the people,” he has called us, suggesting over and over that we’re in cahoots to do damage to the country. The idea of joining together to protest him seems almost to encourage that kind of conspiracy thinking by the president and his loyalists. Why give them ammunition to scream about “collusion”?
We mean no disrespect to those who have decided to write on this important subject today. But we will continue to write about the issue on our own schedule.
… and the San Francisco Chronicle participated by saying they weren’t participating:
One of our most essential values is independence. The Globe’s argument is that having a united front on the issue — with voices from Boise to Boston taking a stand for the First Amendment, each in a newspaper’s own words — makes a powerful statement. However, I would counter that answering a call to join the crowd, no matter how worthy the cause, is not the same as an institution deciding on its own to raise a matter.
Our decision might have been different had we not weighed in so often on Trump’s myriad moves to undermine journalism: from calling us “enemies of the American people” to invoking the term “fake news” against real news to denying access to reporters who dare do their jobs to slapping tariffs on newsprint to requesting the prosecution of reporters who reveal classified information to threatening punitive actions against the business interest of owners of CNN and the Washington Post.
The list goes on.
It’s worth pausing to note the role of the editorial board. At The Chronicle, as with most American newspapers, the position on the unsigned pieces on the editorial page reflect the consensus of a board that includes the publisher and the editors and writers in the opinion department. That operation is kept separate from the news side, where editors and reporters make their judgments without regard to the newspaper’s editorial positions. This includes the endorsements we make in elections.
The New York Post managed to not make it just about Trump:
The Boston Globe has asked for a coordinated response today from newspapers across the country, to oppose President Trump’s labeling journalists as an “enemy of the people.”
Who are we to disagree? We support a free and vibrant press, a nation where the powerful are held to account by the Fourth Estate. Journalists are not the enemy of the people; we’re advocating for the people. We stand with our colleagues.
Will this make a difference? Not one whit.
Nor will it stop Nancy Pelosi from claiming that NBC is trying to undermine her because it quoted elected officials, or Gov. Andrew Cuomo from accusing a NY1 reporter of bias because he asked a question.
And it certainly won’t deter Mayor Bill de Blasio, who despises a free press as vehemently as does our president. De Blasio has bashed the Times and Crain’s, accused Bloomberg News of being biased, wished for the death of the Daily News and, oh, said the world would be a better place without The Post.
It may be frustrating to argue that just because we print inconvenient truths doesn’t mean that we’re fake news, but being a journalist isn’t a popularity contest. All we can do is to keep reporting.
Trump and de Blasio will continue to bash the press because it riles up their bases. When you can’t argue the merits, you blame the messenger.
We have faith. As the Bard put it, “At the length truth will out.”
Facebook Friend Michael Smith adds:
I know the press thought unifying 300+ newspapers behind a single theme was a great idea but it also revealed the very reason President Trump called them “the enemy of the people”. I noted in an earlier post (from my blog post of 6 years ago) that even Democrat pollster Pat Caddell called the press the same during the Benghazi scandal.
What this little stunt revealed is how much power the press has to spread lies of commission and omission, half-truths and rumors. Today, a lot of the reporting amounts to outlets reporting on what another news outlet reported – reporters reporting on other reporters, so a single voice gets pushed through the biggest megaphone in America.
When you have that big a megaphone, one would think the press would feel an overwhelming responsibility to get it right – but they don’t. They report based on preconception and an agenda, one designed to bring this administration down. Printing and reporting incomplete and in some cases, false information, not only makes them the enemy of the people (who count on them for accurate and factual information) but it disgraces their profession.
Can you imagine how long a broadcast meteorologist would last if they only reported the weather based on what they wanted it to be rather than what the science told them? If that person was consistently wrong, it wouldn’t be long before nobody would watch or trust that person’s forecasts.
The press is reporting the weather they way they want it to be rather than what it is and rather than recognizing their error and correcting it, they are choosing to tell America why we should just believe them when they tell us it is sunny and the rain is pouring down. It doesn’t matter if 300 weather “experts” are telling you the sun is out and you are getting wet. Quantity of opinion doesn’t make something real.
Once again, the press sent a strong message to the public – but as is becoming all too common these days, it wasn’t the message they thought they were sending.