The media vs. Trump

Michael Goodwin:

This month marks the two-year anniversary of one of the most important articles ever written on journalism. On Aug. 7, 2016, after Donald Trump formally secured the Republican nomination and the general election was underway, New York Times media columnist James Rutenberg began with a question:

“If you’re a working journalist and you believe that Donald J. Trump is a demagogue playing to the nation’s worst racist and nationalistic tendencies, that he cozies up to anti-American dictators and that he would be dangerous with control of the United States nuclear codes, how the heck are you supposed to cover him?”

Under the Times’ traditional standards, the right answer is that you wouldn’t be allowed to cover any candidate you were so biased against. But that’s not the answer Rutenberg gave.

Instead, quoting an editor who called Hillary Clinton “normal” and Trump “abnormal,” Rutenberg suggested “normal standards” didn’t apply. He admitted that “balance has been on vacation” since Trump began to campaign and ended by declaring that it is “journalism’s job to be true to the readers and viewers, and true to the facts, in a way that will stand up to history’s judgment.”

I wrote then that the article was a failed attempt to justify the lopsided anti-Trump coverage in the Times and other news organizations. It was indeed that — and more, for it also served as a dog whistle for anti-Trump journalists, telling them it was acceptable to reveal their biases. After all, history would judge them.

Weeks later, Dean Baquet, the Times’ executive editor, told an interviewer the Rutenberg article “nailed” his thinking and convinced him that the struggle for fairness was over.

“I think that Trump has ended that struggle,” Baquet boasted. “I think we now say stuff. We fact-check him. We write it more powerfully that it’s false.”

Because the Times is the liberal media’s bell cow, the floodgates were flung open to routinely call Trump a liar, a racist and a traitor. Standards of fairness were trashed as nearly every prominent news organization demonized Trump and effectively endorsed Clinton. This open partisanship was a disgraceful chapter in the history of American journalism.

Yet the shocking failure of that effort produced no change in behavior. After the briefest of mea culpas for failing to see even the possibility of a Trump victory, the warped coverage continued and became the media wing of the resistance movement.

Which is how we arrived at the latest low moment in journalism. This one involved the more than 300 newspapers (including The Post) that followed The Boston Globe and, especially his accusation that they are “the ­enemy of the people.”

The high-minded among the media mob insisted they were joining together to protect the First Amendment and freedom of the press. In fact, the effort looked, smelled and felt like self-interest and rank partisanship masquerading as principle.

True to their habit, most of the papers expressed contempt for the president and some extended that contempt to his supporters.

Nancy Ancrum, the editorial-page editor of The Miami Herald, told Fox News her paper joined the effort without any hope of changing the minds of Trump supporters because “they are just too far gone.”

Imagine that — 63 million Americans are written off because they disagree with the media elite’s politics. Echoes of Clinton’s “deplorables” comment ring loud and clear.

I agree that Trump is wrong to call the media the “enemy of the people” and wish he would stick to less inflammatory words. His ­favorite charge of “fake news” makes his point well enough without any hint that he favors retribution on individual journalists.

But I am also concerned that media leaders refuse to see their destructive role in the war with the president. Few show any remorse over how the relentlessly hostile coverage of Trump is damaging the nation and changing journalism for the worse.

One obvious consequence is increased political polarization, with many media outlets making it their mission to denounce Trump from first page to last, day in and day out. Studies show 90 percent of TV news coverage is negative and the Times, Washington Post and CNN, among others, appear addicted to Trump ­hatred as if it is a narcotic.

This lack of balance permits little or no coverage of any of his achievements. How many people, for example, know about the employment records shattered by the jobs boom unleashed by Trump’s policies?

Black unemployment stands at 5.9 percent, the lowest rate on record. For Latinos, it is 4.5 percent, also the lowest on record. For women, it’s the lowest rate in 65 years and for young people, it’s the lowest since 1966.

Those statistics mean millions of people are getting their shot at the American dream. How can that not be newsworthy?

Rest assured that if Barack Obama had achieved those milestones, they and he would have been celebrated to the high heavens.

Yet when it comes to Trump, nothing is ever good. Having decided he is unfit to be president, most news groups act as propagandists, ignoring or distorting facts that contradict their view of him.

While media manipulation hurts Trump’s popularity, there is a second, ironic impact: The skewed coverage is doing even more damage to public trust in the media itself.

A Gallup/Knight Foundation survey of 1,440 panelists earlier this year found adults estimating that “62 percent of the news they read in newspapers, see on television or hear on the radio is biased” and that 44 percent of “news” is inaccurate.

Separately, Axios and SurveyMonkey polled nearly 4,000 adults in June and found that 70 percent believe mainline news organizations report as news things “they know to be fake, false or purposely misleading.”

Among Republicans and GOP-leaning independents, an astonishing 92 percent harbor that distrust, as do 53 percent of Democrats.

And get this: Two-thirds of those who believe there is rampant false news say it usually happens because journalists “have an agenda.” Clearly, the distrust is not limited to Trump supporters.

These numbers reflect an urgent crisis of confidence in the press. And it’s getting worse.

A Gallup survey three years ago found that 40 percent trusted the media; two years ago, the trust meter declined by 8 points, to 32 percent. Now even that low bar looks like the good old days.

Yet instead of soberly examining their conduct, most in the media ratchet up the vitriol, apparently believing that screaming louder and longer will lead the public to hate Trump as much as they do.

But as the surveys show, their bias is a boomerang. With media behavior undermining public trust more than anything Trump says or does, a return to traditional standards of fairness and a separation of news from opinion are essential.

Jeff Jacoby adds:

Last week more than 400 newspapers nationwide responded to a call by The Boston Globe to publish editorials in defense of freedom of the press, and to explain why the news media, far from being, in President Trump’s malicious phrase, the “enemy of the people,” is one of the foremost guarantors of the people’s liberty.

I’ve written about Trump and the press before, both to caution against an anti-Trump feeding frenzy and to warn of the danger in a presidential war against the press . Here I want to focus on something else — the notion, especially widespread on the right these days, that freedom of the press is for “unbiased” news coverage, not for journalism that is unfair or hostile to the president.

An Ipsos poll taken earlier this month found that 26% of Americans — and 43% of Republicans — believe that “the president should have the authority to close news outlets engaged in bad behavior.” In a Quinnipiac poll , also released this month, 26% of voters agreed that “the news media is the enemy of the people.” Among Republicans, an actual majority, 51%, agreed with that statement.

It is hard to overstate how radically un-American such views are. Public disenchantment with the press, and complaints by officials that the press treats them unfairly, are as old as the press itself. But whatever people think of the media, the question of their right to publish what they please was settled when the First Amendment to the Constitution was ratified in 1791: “Congress shall make no law . . . abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press . . .”

Nothing in the language of the Amendment makes freedom of the press contingent on objectivity, or popularity, or public approval. Such a condition would never have occurred to the Constitution’s framers, because the press in their day was anything but (to coin a phrase) fair and balanced. Newspapers made no pretense of detachment — quite the opposite.

In 1800, for example, Samuel Morse of Danbury, Conn., publisher of the Sun of Liberty newspaper, readily flaunted his support for Thomas Jefferson’s Democratic-Republican Party. He was opposed to the Federalists led by John Adams, and saw no need to hide the fact. “A despicable impartiality I disclaim,” he wrote. “I have a heart and I have a country — to the last I shall ever dedicate the first.”

By that point, the tradition of a freewheeling, no-holds-barred, decidedly partisan press was well-established. On my way to the Globe’s office each day, I pass the spot on Court Street in downtown Boston where James Franklin, the publisher of the New England Courant (and the older brother of Benjamin Franklin), had his printing presses. Franklin’s Courant got into a famous battle in 1721 with the Massachusetts Puritan leader Cotton Mather over the best way to treat smallpox, which was then ravaging the colony.

As Matthew Price wrote in a Globe essay in 2006, “Franklin made hell for Mather with a potent combination of slander and innuendo. Mather shot back that the Courant was a ‘Flagitious and Wicked Paper.’” (That was Puritan-speak for “fake news.”)

My point isn’t that the openly, even brutally, partisan press culture of the 18th and 19th centuries is better or worse than the ideal of journalistic impartiality that began to take hold during the Progressive Era early in the 20th century. It is that when the First Congress and the states enshrined in the First Amendment an adamantine prohibition on “abridging the freedom of . . . the press,” they were protecting the raucous, argumentative, ideological, often vicious journalism of their day. Freedom of the press, like freedom of speech, is meaningless if it only protects decorous messages and inoffensive expression that ruffle nobody’s feathers.

News organizations — and their customers — don’t need the Constitution to shield anodyne, noncontroversial journalism. If newspapers restricted themselves to printing stories that the president liked, what would be the point of newspapers? If Fox News or MSNBC broadcast commentary that challenged no one’s partisan preferences, what would be the point of watching?

“If there is any principle of the Constitution that more imperatively calls for attachment than any other, it is the principle of free thought,” wrote Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. in 1929. “Not free thought for those who agree with us but freedom for the thought that we hate.”

Only people profoundly and alarmingly ignorant of Americans’ constitutional liberties could believe that presidents should have the right to shut down publications “engaged in bad behavior.” The proper term for such “bad behavior” is a free press, and it is among the shining glories of America’s constitutional democracy.


Science fiction and today’s reality

Science fiction novelist Travis Corcoran won the Libertarian Futurist Society‘s Corcoran Award for his novel The Powers of the Earth. His acceptance speech included:

Eric S Raymond said it best: “Hard SF is the vital heart of the field”. The core of hard science fiction is libertarianism: “ornery and insistent individualism, veneration of the competent man, instinctive distrust of coercive social engineering”.

I agree; science fiction is best when it tells stories about free people using intelligence, skills and hard work to overcome challenges.

This vision of science fiction is under attack by collectivists, and hard SF and libertarian SF are being pushed out of publisher lineups and off of bookstore shelves.

Very well. We have intelligence, we have skills and we’re not afraid of hard work. Let’s rise to this challenge!

The Powers of the Earth is a novel about many things.

It’s a war story about ancaps, uplifted dogs, and AI fighting against government using combat robots, large guns, and kinetic energy weapons.

It’s an engineering story about space travel, open source software, tunnel boring machines, and fintech.

It’s a cyberpunk story about prediction markets, CNC guns, and illegal ROMs.

It’s a story about competent men who build machines, competent women who pilot spaceships, and competent dogs who write code.

It’s a novel that pays homage to Heinlein’s The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, which in turn pays homage to the American Revolution.

. . . But the historical inspiration for the novel was not, actually, the American Revolution. It’s the founding of the Icelandic Free State almost a thousand years earlier. The difference is subtle, but important.

The American Revolution was an act of secession: one part of a government declaring itself independent and co-equal, and continuing to act as a government. The establishment of the Icelandic Free State is different in two important particulars. First, it did not consist of people challenging an existing government, but of people physically leaving a region governed by a tyrant. And second, the men and women who expatriated themselves from the reign of Harald Fairhair did not create a government – they wanted to flee authoritarianism, not establish their own branch of it!

Thus we get to one of the most important themes of The Powers of the Earth and its sequel, Causes of Separation: the concepts of Exit, Voice, and Loyalty. The tri-chotomy was first codified in an essay—titled “Exit, Voice, and Loyalty: Responses to Decline in Firms, Organizations, and States”—by economist Albert Hirschman in 1970.

An aside: I love that this essay was penned while Americans walked on the moon.

Hirschman argued that when a vendor or government fails to deliver, people can either remain loyal, can speak out within the system, or can exit the system.

The problem we Americans have in 2018 is that there is no more frontier. Like the engineers in Christopher Priest’s “The Inverted World”, we moved west until we hit an ocean, and that has been our doom.

When there is a frontier, it is impossible to deny that the pie is growing. Want a farm? Go hack one out of the forest. Want a house? Go build one.

Once the frontier is gone, value can still be created ab initio. The pie is not fixed. For the price of a cheap computer you can create a novel or a software package. With a $100 video camera you can be a garage Kubrick. With a free Craigslist ad you can be a dog-walking entrepreneur.

. . . But the closing of the frontier made it easier for the collectivists to argue that the pie is fixed. And—worse yet—it made it impossible for the rest of us to get away.

We’d all love to live in David Friedman’s polycentric legal system, Robert Nozick’s meta-utopia, Moldbug’s patchwork, or Scott Alexander’s archipelago – a place where each of us could live by rules we choose, and people who preferred another set could live by those… but we can’t, and that’s for one reason and one reason alone: the collectivists who can’t bear to let anyone, anywhere, be ungoverned.

Totalitarian ideologies – Nazism, Communism, Islamofascism, Progressivism – all subscribe to the Mussolini quote “All within the state, nothing outside the state, nothing against the state.”

The Nazi sees any area not under Nazi control as a threat.

The communist sees any area not under communist control as a threat.

The Islamofascist sees any area outside of Dar al Islam as Dar al-Harb—a populace to be subjugated.

Collectivists sees anything not under collectivist control as a threat—and as an opportunity.

A threat, because areas not under collectivist control always work better. It is no accident that just as the Soviets jammed broadcasts from the west, Nazis outlawed American music, Chinese built a Great Firewall, so too do progressives shadow-ban free voices on Twitter and Facebook and expel people from conventions.

An opportunity, because of what totalitarians do when they see a patch of freedom: they try to take it over. “All within, nothing outside”.

When the patch of freedom is a state, we get the long march through the institutions, as outlined by communist Antonio Gramsci and refined by communist Rudi Dutschke. First they become teachers, then they influence the students, then they take over the courts . . . and then it’s not too long until some O’Brien is holding up four fingers to some Winston Smith, crushing out the last of the wrongthink.

When the patch of freedom is a subculture the mechanism is different—it’s discussed in the brilliant essay “Geeks, MOPs, and sociopaths in subculture evolution” by David Chapman.

One core attribute of totalitarians is that they don’t create, they steal. And because they steal, they are both confused by and hate those who do create. As Barrack Obama said “You didn’t build that.” As the internet meme says: “You made this? <pause> I made this.”

Since the first Worldcon in 1939 science fiction has been a libertarian territory under attack from authoritarians. Futurian Donald Wollheim was a communist, and argued that all of science fiction “should actively work for the realization of the . . . world-state as the only . . . justification for their activities”.

Wollheim failed with his takeover in 1939—he was physically removed from Worldcon—but he started a Gramscian long march through the institutions, and it worked. In the current year conventions, editors, and publishing houses are all cordy-cepted. The sociopaths have pushed the geeks out and have taken over the cultural territory.

“You made this? <pause> I made this.”

When the state tries to take your home, they come with guns, and you have to fight them with guns, if at all.

When a subculture tries to take your home, they come with snark and shame and entryism . . . and you fight them by making better art.

The bad news for us libertarians is that the cities we built have fallen. The publishers? Gone. The bookstore shelves? Gone.

But what of it? We have Amazon, we have print on demand, we have Kickstarter.

And, most importantly of all, we have the vital heart, the radiant core of science fiction: we can tell great stories about ornery individualism, about competent men and women using skills and hard work to overcome challenges. This is the one thing the collectivists can never steal from us, because it is antithetical to their nature.

There is not an ocean in front of us, dooming us to captivity—there is only sky. The frontier is still open.


About us “enemies”

Ripon Commonwealth Press publisher Tim Lyke:

You know why Ripon claims to be the actual birthsite of the Republican Party?

The name.

The “Republican” label was suggested to Alvan Bovay by a newspaper editor.

In 1850 Bovay moved with his family from Utica, N.Y., to Ripon, Wis., a community comprised of 13 houses. Under his leadership, “Bovay’s addition” grew as he practiced law, co-founded a college and transformed his tiny town into a major bulwark against the spread of slavery.

In 1852 he returned to New York, where he informed New York Tribune editor Horace Greeley of his plans to start a new party. Excited by his pal’s plans, Greeley recommended Ripon’s movement be dubbed the “Republican” party.

So there you go.

An ink-stained wretch gave a name to the abolitionist party rooted in that little white schoolhouse off Blackburn Street.

Greeley’s role is but a thread in an American tapestry whose fabric is bound by journalists sharing facts and shining lights to make the powerful accountable to the people.

This is as well publicized as Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein going door-to-door to ask close-lipped Committee to Re-Elect the President staffers how campaign contributions were ending up in a White House-controlled slush fund.

It’s also as local as our editor Ian Stepleton creating three-ring binders to organize invoices and escrow account disbursement requests he collected to show Ripon taxpayers how their $6 million were frittered away by a Milwaukee attorney to pay his own law firm; analyze Midwest pizza/pasta bars; research Ripon traffic patterns; make a down payment on brew-pub equipment; hire someone to visit the nation’s top spas; and pay two consultants  to read books about women’s shopping habits.

Because we have elected an egotist-in-chief who surrounds himself with sycophants reinforcing his belief that rules don’t apply to him personally, professionally or legally, he brands journalists of all stripes who report on his actions as the “enemies of the American people” who are “dangerous and sick” purveyors of “fake news.”

Attacking reporters is a bipartisan sport. Bernie Sanders calls them “corporate media.” Hillary Clinton decries their “shoddy reporting.” And who said, “My instinct is everybody hates [the] media right now?”

Barack Obama.

People who buy ink by the barrel have thick skin.

Many realize that some of their wounds are self inflicted, given the shortened news cycle, the blurring of news reporting and analysis, and their bull-headed inability to admit that bias and error infect their reporting because they are human.

But news consumers?

The day 50+1 percent believe that the press is their adversary is the day a pillar of democracy will topple, flattening the governed under the unchecked weight of those who  govern with impunity and immunity.

Washington Post Publisher Ben Bradlee was called names we can’t print when he dared publish the truth about Watergate and later, the U.S. role in expanding the Vietnam War.

I was honored a few years ago to meet this tenacious newspaperman, who history and Hollywood have long since vindicated.

Power corrupts even the best leaders.

That’s why James Madison realized government needed independent voices to check its worst instincts.

If America is at war with that concept, then we deserve whatever authoritarian we elect to unilaterally destroy our Republican party, our nation and our world order.

The press can be fallible, ignorant, sloppy, sensationalistic, exploitative, rude, profane, irresponsible.

And when it falls short, readers and viewers can take it to task by changing channels or letting their subscription lapse.

But when the government falls short, the public may never know it if the press are silenced by a president who divides the nation by stomping on those who refuse to kiss his feet.

Then the new slaves will be the American people.

Where is the next Alvan Bovay who will rise up to free people being enslaved by lies, insults and ignorance?

The aftermath of Dump On Trump Day

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!

I did.

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.

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.


Freedom for our wheels

Stephen Moore:

A few years ago, I spoke at my son’s fifth-grade class about all the wonderful things that we have today in our great country that weren’t around 100 years ago, including cars. A ponytailed girl in the front of the room raised her hand and, with a solemn look on her face, scolded me: “Cars are bad. They cause pollution.”

Wow. These were 11-year-olds! It was one of my first encounters with the green indoctrination that goes on in public schools starting in the first grade.

There wasn’t time to explain to her that when Henry Ford started rolling his black Model T’s off the assembly lines in Michigan, the mass production of automobiles was heralded as one of the greatest environmental and health advances in history. It replaced one of the prodigious polluters: the horse. The average 1,000-pound horse dumps 30 pounds of feces and 2 gallons of urine a day. Can anyone imagine what Washington, D.C., or Pittsburgh or New Orleans smelled like on a hot, sweltering summer day or what all that feces did to our water supply? Oh, and watch your step!

Yet, many liberals still seem to agree with Al Gore, a Nobel Peace Prize winner, who says that the combustible engine is one of the worst inventions of all time.

This explains why the ascendant green movement in America has for decades been trying to force Americans out of their cars. They think like that fifth-grader despite being supposedly rational adults.

The war on driving includes calls for carbon and gas taxes, tens of billions of gas tax money diverted to inefficient and little-used mass transit projects, and opposition to building new roads and highways. One of the most nefarious initiatives has been the Obama administration’s draconian increases to the Corporate Average Fuel Economy standards — a giant and hidden tax on American drivers.

Donald Trump announced last week he wants to ease those regulations. Under the Obama mandates, CAFE requirements would rise from about 35 mpg today to 54 mpg by 2025. This would raise the cost of many new cars by almost $3,000, and the hit to the economy from these rules is expected to reach a cool $500 billion over the next 50 years.

Under Trump’s proposed changes, mileage requirements would still rise every year to 42 mpg by 2025 (way too high for my liking). And yet the left is seething in protest, complaining this means the end of our planet. The difference between the Trump and the Obama standards will mean a 31-hundredth degree higher global temperature in 80 years.

The Department of Transportation has found that the best way to get cleaner air is to incentivize families to buy new cars and get the older and higher polluting gas-guzzlers off the road. But CAFE standards raise car prices. So families delay the purchase of new cars, which increases pollution levels.

Perhaps the biggest benefit of the new Trump standards is that they are expected to save about 1,000 lives a year due to lower highway deaths. The Competitive Enterprise Institute has found that CAFE standards kill people for two reasons: first, they induce the car companies to build lighter cars in order to meet the fuel standards. Second, because the regulations keep old cars on the road longer, Americans are more likely to be driving in less safe vehicles. The Trump administration has science firmly on its side here.

Not so long ago liberals opposed military intervention in the Middle East by chanting “no blood for oil.” But with higher CAFE standards, they willingly tolerate more blood on the highways to save on oil.

Hearty congratulations to Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao and EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler for a new rule that can save lives, reduce pollution, grow the economy, and let people buy the cars they want — including SUVs, minivans and sports cars. This is a great victory for common sense and a windshield against the left’s war on cars. As for those misguided fifth-graders, they will figure out the virtues of cars once they are old enough to get their driver’s licenses. But when will liberals grow up?

If this were only true

Steve Levy (not of ESPN):

President Bill Clinton’s welfare reform required recipients to work as a prerequisite to a government check. It led to more Americans participating in the workforce and a remarkable reduction of the welfare rolls.

Taxpayers and the recipients themselves benefited.

But those tight work requirements were loosened considerably in the Obama years, as were the eligibility rules for disability claims. Both were at least partially responsible for the huge increase of people no longer in the workforce (up to 40 million in the 25 to 64 age bracket).

Fortunately, that trend is suddenly being reversed thanks to President Trump’s vibrant economy. The number of Social Security Disability (SSDI) applications this year is at the lowest rate in 16 years. Another positive trend is the new administration’s formulating of rules requiring work for Medicaid.

It’s about time.

With all the debate over the healthcare bills, little attention focused on how the explosion of Medicaid can fundamentally change the basic underpinnings of American society.

The media gushes over how millions of Americans now get health insurance thanks to the expansion of Medicaid. They fail to mention that once you become dependent on that program, rather than through an employer, you can be forever trapped by being on the dole. That means you become more concerned about keeping your eligibility for Medicaid, and the healthcare it bestows, than upon advancing on a career path with promotions, higher wages — or even getting a job in the first place.

Medicaid ballooned by $100 billion between 2013 and 2015, while food stamp rolls grew 36 percent in the decade prior to the Trump administration.

Simultaneously, workfare requirements were being gutted.

Even further overlooked is the fact that Supplemental Security Disability Income had grown from 4.3 million in 1990, to 6.7 million in 2000, to 8.6 million today. This left us with one in 19 Americans collecting a disability check while not being fully employed.

Did the American workplace suddenly get infinitely more dangerous over the last 20 years? Hardly. Our work conditions have never been safer.

In 2013, former Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., through a Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee report, exposed the fact that many residents in West Virginia waited for their 99 weeks of unemployment to expire in the midst of the Great Recession, only to turn around thereafter and apply for disability benefits.

Remarkably, 15 percent of the state’s population was on disability. It’s emblematic of an explosion of an underclass that could forever be dependent on a government check and lose all incentives to rejoin the workforce.

While no one was looking, lawmakers quietly liberalized provisions that opened the floodgates for mere stress or back pain to be a qualifier for disability benefits. These categories are among the fastest growing in the system.

How many of us over 40 don’t have stress or back pain?

1.3 million additional recipients were added during the Obama years through 2015, due to an expediting of the administrative process that overwhelmingly sided with the applicant.

The nonpartisan National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) noted that rules were changed to allow for more weight on self-reporting, relaxed screenings of mental illness, and the accepting of medical evidence from the applicant’s own doctor — while no taxpayer advocates were involved in the process.

Those on disability also qualify for Medicare. And because the Feds foot the whole disability bill, while only providing 50 percent of many Social Services costs such as food stamps, at least one state,Missouri, was actually paying a consultant (Public Consulting Group) to move people from their welfare rolls and onto disability.

As Chana Joffe-Walt wrote in her staggering article for NPR’s “Planet Money,”  ” . . . disability has also become a de facto welfare program for people without a lot of education or job skills.” Her report further indicated that, “Once people go onto disability, they almost never go back to work.”

Perhaps, until now.

The tax cut plan and its resulting kick-start to the economy has boosted job opportunities and consumer confidence. Greater hope equates to greater motivation. Add to that an increase individual dignity by tying benefits to a requirment to work.

The administration should go further to require that anyone on disability, who has not lost his limbs or eyesight, or isn’t undergoing treatment for a terminal disease, report to an employment site established by local government and be given a job — even if it is filing papers.

Pay these individuals the same they get right now. While there won’t be direct savings there, a massive amount will be saved by weeding out fraudulent applicants.

Since those applicants have to report to a designated location 40 hours a week anyway, we’ll see how fast they say their stress isn’t all that bad and perhaps they can do their old job, and get paid by their employer, rather than the taxpayer.

One reason I’m skeptical about this is, as employers can tell you, merely having a body in the office doesn’t exactly help the business. It’s hard to imagine a less motivated employee than someone who has already been a malingerer due to his or her stated disability that prevents them, or so they claim, from doing any work at all.

Those of us who work 40 or more hours a week to support those who work zero hours per week deserve this much.


More wonderful (/sarcasm) media news


Even if they are not “fake news” or “the enemy of the people”, it is clear that the reputation of the news media is under siege. According to the General Social Survey, the number of Americans with some or a great deal of trust in the press has dropped 30 percentage points since the late 1970s. Ipsos recently conducted a survey with the American public to better understand how Americans currently view the press and public support for efforts to restrict journalism. While we found that the large majority of Americans support the concept of the 1st Amendment, there are worrying signs that freedom of the press might be conditional to many people.

First off, the good news. The large majority of Americans, 85%, agree that the “Freedom of the press is essential for American democracy.” Additionally, two-thirds (68%) say that “reporters should be protected from pressure from government or big business interests.” Majorities of both Democrats and Republicans agree with these two statements signaling deep support for the concept of freedom of the press.

Some of the limits of public support for freedom of the press are made stark with a quarter of Americans (26%) saying they agree “the president should have the authority to close news outlets engaged in bad behavior,” including a plurality of Republicans (43%). Likewise, most Americans (72%) think “it should be easier to sue reporters who knowingly publish false information.”

Unanimity starts to break down as we more grounded questions. While a plurality — 46% — agree “most news outlets try their best to produce honest reporting”, there are very stark splits by the partisan identification of the respondent with most Democrats (68%) generally believing in the good intent of journalists, but comparatively few Republicans (29%). And when we ask questions with specific partisan cues, the political split is very wide. For instance, 80% of Republicans but only 23% of Democrats agree that “most news outlets have a liberal bias,” and 79% of Republicans but only 11% of Democrats agree, “the mainstream media treats President Trump unfairly. Returning to President Trump’s views on the press, almost a third of the American people (29%) agree with the idea that “the news media is the enemy of the American people,” including a plurality of Republicans (48%).

A final statistic is somewhat reassuring, only 13% of Americans agree that “President Trump should close down mainstream news outlets, like CNN, the Washington Post and the New York Times.” Here less than a quarter of Republicans (23%) agree along with fewer than one in ten Democrats (8%).


The sacred (religious leaders), the profane (politicians), and the ultimate earthly penalty

Jeff Jacoby:

Pope Francis announced [Aug. 3] that the Catholic Church will henceforth teach that the death penalty is always wrong, and will “work with determination towards its abolition worldwide.” The announcement made news — it was reported on the front page of The New York Times and The Washington Post — but it hardly came as a surprise.

Just last fall the pope had declared capital punishment to be “contrary to the Gospel” and “inhumane . . . regardless of how it is carried out.” A year and a half before that, he had called on Catholic politicians to make the “courageous and exemplary gesture” of opposing all executions.

Yet if the pontiff’s views on the death penalty were well known, last week’s proclamation nonetheless marked a dramatic change in church doctrine, which for nearly two millennia had always upheld the legitimacy of the death penalty in appropriate cases. The death penalty is supported in the Bible — both Old and New Testaments. It has been firmly defended by many of the most eminent figures in church history, from St. Augustine and Thomas Aquinas in ancient times to popes, cardinals, and scholars in the modern era.

“The infliction of capital punishment is not contrary to the teaching of the Catholic Church,” the Catholic Encyclopedia, published in 1911, stated categorically . The Catechism of the Catholic Church, originally promulgated by the Council of Trent in 1566, emphasized that the execution of murderers is lawful precisely because it upholds the Biblical commandment — “Thou shalt not murder” — that prohibits unlawful homicide. In the words of the catechism:

“Another kind of lawful slaying belongs to the civil authorities, to whom is entrusted power of life and death, by the legal and judicious exercise of which they punish the guilty and protect the innocent. Now the punishments inflicted by the civil authority, which is the legitimate avenger of crime, naturally tend to this end, since they give security to life by repressing outrage and violence. The just use of this power, far from involving the crime of murder, is an act of paramount obedience to the Commandment which prohibits murder. The end of the Commandment is the preservation and security of human life.”

To be sure, popes in recent decades have been much more wary about the death penalty. Pope John Paul II expressed his skepticism in a passage of his 1995 encyclical “Evangelium Vitae” (The Gospel of Life). All the same, when the catechism was revised on his watch, it continued to make clear that the execution of murderers was not, in the eyes of the Catholic Church, always wrong. In the section on the Commandment against murder, it upheld the lawfulness of the death penalty in certain cases:

2267. Assuming that the guilty party’s identity and responsibility have been fully determined, the traditional teaching of the Church does not exclude recourse to the death penalty, if this is the only possible way of effectively defending human lives against the unjust aggressor.

Even as many Catholic leaders moved firmly into the anti-capital punishment camp, that position was never binding on the faithful — unlike the church’s stand on other sanctity-of-life issues. Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who before becoming Pope Benedict XVI headed the Vatican department in charge of clarifying and teaching Catholic doctrine, made that point explicitly in 2004:

“Not all moral issues have the same moral weight as abortion and euthanasia. . . . There may be a legitimate diversity of opinion even among Catholics about waging war and applying the death penalty.”

Now that Francis has ordered the church to make its opposition to capital punishment absolute, will that tolerance for “legitimate diversity of opinion” on the subject vanish?

I doubt it. If the College of Cardinals backs him up, the pope may be able to unilaterally change a formerly authoritative — indeed a formerly uncontroversial — doctrine of Catholic belief. But it is unlikely that he will change what Catholics actually believe. According to a recent poll by the Pew Research Center , most American Catholics, 53%, favor the death penalty as an option in murder cases. That tracks closely with US public opinion generally: 54% of Americans favor capital punishment, while 39% are opposed. Though the US Conference of Catholic Bishops has been lobbying against the death penalty for years, it has never managed to persuade a majority of its flock to follow suit.
Nor is the pope’s pronouncement likely to make any measurable difference in the behavior of public officials who are Catholic.

In its story reporting Francis’s decision last Thursday, The New York Times speculated that “the pope’s move could put Catholic politicians in a new and difficult position, especially Catholic governors like Greg Abbott of Texas and Pete Ricketts of Nebraska, who have presided over executions.”

There was no comment from Abbott, but Ricketts wasted no time dumping cold water on the notion that a shift in Catholic doctrine will keep him from upholding his duty to his state.

“While I respect the pope’s perspective, capital punishment remains the will of the people and the law of the state of Nebraska,” the governor said in a statement following the announcement from the Vatican. “It is an important tool to protect our corrections officers and public safety. The state continues to carry out the sentences ordered by the court.” Catechism or no catechism, the execution of Carey Dean Moore, who murdered two Omaha cabbies in 1979, will take place as scheduled next week.

Meanwhile, another Catholic governor was quick to embrace the pope’s announcement. “In solidarity with Pope Francis,” declared New York’s Andrew Cuomo, he plans to introduce “legislation to remove the death penalty — and its ugly stain in our history — from state law once and for all.” Cuomo hailed the pope for “ushering in a more righteous world” and for teaching that the execution of murderers has no place in the 21st century.”

Obviously this was mere posturing, not least because the death penalty was abolished in New York 11 years ago. Cuomo’s opposition to capital punishment is no more determined by Catholic doctrine than his support for gay marriage and abortion rights. Cuomo is “in solidarity” with the pope only when the pope endorses Cuomo’s preexisting view. When the governor and the church are on opposite sides of an issue, solidarity disappears.

As it should.

When it comes to the death penalty — when it comes to any contentious issue — neither New York’s liberal Catholic governor nor Nebraska’s conservative Catholic governor should be taking direction from the pope or any other clerical leader. In the workings of American law and politics, religious leaders are respected, sometimes very deeply respected. They do not give orders, however. American culture is deeply informed by Judeo-Christian values, but when politicians hammer out public policy, the only “scripture” they are bound to uphold are the constitutions of the nation and their state.

As a candidate for president in 1960, John F. Kennedy faced considerable opposition from Protestants who feared that if he were elected, he would take orders from the Vatican. In a landmark speech before the Greater Houston Ministerial Association, he addressed those fears head on:

“I believe in an America,” said JFK, “that is officially neither Catholic, Protestant, nor Jewish; where no public official either requests or accepts instructions on public policy from the Pope, the National Council of Churches, or any other ecclesiastical source; where no religious body seeks to impose its will directly or indirectly upon the general populace or the public acts of its officials; and where religious liberty is so indivisible that an act against one church is treated as an act against all.

And should the time ever come, he added, that religious conviction forced him to choose between violating his conscience or violating the national interest, “then I would resign the office; and I hope any conscientious public servant would do the same.”

To my mind, the pope’s blanket opposition to the death penalty is morally indefensible. The death penalty is grim and unpleasant, but it is a tool of justice that no decent society should unequivocally renounce. When murderers know that they face no greater risk than prison, more innocent victims die.

Conversely, the pope’s blanket opposition to assisted suicide is, in my opinion, quite correct. It is the opposite of true compassion to encourage people to end their lives, or to make it easier for them to do so. Life does not cease to be precious when it fills with pain or depression, and the law should not authorize doctors to snuff it out.

Americans have long debated such issues, and those debates will go on, regardless of any papal proclamations. Politicians may play up the pope’s views when it matches their own, but that’s just for show. Religious leaders don’t make the rules in this country. We the People do, thank God.

As an ex-Catholic, I find it hypocritical at least for Catholics to be pro-abortion rights and anti-death penalty, the standard Democratic position outside of Bill Clinton, or to be anti-abortion and pro-death penalty, the standard Republican position. Of course, neither God nor Jesus Christ belongs to an American political party. Catholics can say their church is wrong, but they need to remember that the Catholic Church is their church, not any one Catholic’s church. The Catholic Church is not now, nor has it ever been, nor will it ever be, a democracy, regardless of how the church makes its decisions. Those who don’t like that fact should leave. (See the first four words of this paragraph.)


Politics, the media and “common ground”

Margaret Sullivan:

Ken Doctor saw it coming. A few years ago, the media analyst looked at the trend lines and predicted that by 2017 or so, American newsrooms would reach a shocking point.

“The halving of America’s daily newsrooms,” he called what he was seeing.

Last week, we found out that it’s true. A Pew Research study showed that between 2008 and last year, employment in newspaper newsrooms declined by an astonishing 45 percent. (And papers were already well down from their newsroom peak in the early 1990s, when their revenue lifeblood — print advertising — was still pumping strong.)

The dire numbers play out in ugly ways: Public officials aren’t held accountable, town budgets go unscrutinized, experienced journalists are working at Walmart, or not at all, instead of plying their much-needed trade in their communities.

One problem with losing local coverage is that we never know what we don’t know. Corruption can flourish, taxes can rise, public officials can indulge their worst impulses.

And there’s another result that gets less attention:

In our terribly divided nation, we need the local newspaper to give us common information — an agreed-upon set of facts to argue about.

Last year when I visited Luzerne County in Pennsylvania to talk to people about their media habits, I was most struck by one thing: The allegiance to local news outlets — the two competing papers in Wilkes-Barre, and the popular ABC affiliate, WNEP, or Channel 16 as everyone called it.

The most reasonable people I talked to, no matter whom they had voted for, were regular readers of the local papers and regular watchers of the local news. (The county was one of those critical places that had voted for President Obama in 2008 and 2012, and flipped red to Trump in 2016.)

By contrast, those residents who got news only from Facebook or from cable news were deep in their own echo chambers and couldn’t seem to hear anything else.

Last week, President Trump, at his rally in Wilkes-Barre, again trashed the national media — to the crowd’s delight. But I would guess that many of the attendees would give a pass to their local media sources.

After all, the reporters and editors for those news outlets might send their kids to the same schools, shop at the same Dollar General, fill up their gas tanks at the same Sheetz.

When he made his prediction in 2015, Ken Doctor noted that the largest and the smallest of the nation’s newspapers seemed to have some immunity.

Tiny papers have little competition, an enduring connection with their towns, and thus still are able to attract advertising and reader loyalty. The largest of the papers — including the New York Times and The Washington Post — are finding new ways to support themselves with a combination of digital ad dollars and subscriptions, among other revenue sources.

But the regional papers, such as the Denver Post, have taken the worst hits. And to make matters worse, many are owned by hedge funds that couldn’t care less about journalism. They are only interested in bleeding the papers dry of whatever remaining profits they can produce with ever-shrinking staffs.

“Will hitting the halving point finally send a signal of news emergency?” Doctor asked. And he answered himself: “Probably not. Who would send it? Who would receive it? What does any citizen/reader feel he or she can really do about it?”

That’s the rub. What’s more, as papers decline, there’s less reason to subscribe because coverage isn’t what it used to be.

“We’ve had to make some tough decisions,” Ken Tingley, editor of the Glens Falls Post-Star, a Pulitzer Prize-winning daily in the Adirondacks region of New York, told me recently. With his staff down by about half, he has pulled in the news coverage from a far-flung region to concentrate on just the metro area.

What he worries about most, Tingley said, is that there’s not much of a career ahead for the young reporters on his staff.

“Where are they going to go?” he said, when bigger metro dailies keep shedding reporters like so many autumn leaves. (One recent example: The New York Daily News, which halved its newsroom.)

To be sure, the picture isn’t entirely bleak: Nonprofit news organizations spring up, relying on grants and membership; organizations such as Report for America help fill the gaps at shrunken news organizations; and in Denver, a new outfit called Civil is funding an alternative to the decimated Post with the digital Colorado Sun, and hopes to produce many more like it. Some regional papers have been bought by well-meaning philanthropists.

But you can’t argue with the numbers, or the crisis.

Yes, the emergency signal has gone out, if too faintly, and there is a response.

But I’m afraid it won’t be nearly enough to make up for what’s lost. And in a deeply divided America, that’s a tragedy.

After 30 years in journalism, I can conclude that, first, reporters shouldn’t work for publicly traded media companies, since they are driven by the imperative of maximizing shareholder returns. That’s good if you’re a shareholder. (Which, at a minimum through 401K accounts, at least half of U.S. families are.) It’s not so good if you work there and the company has a bad quarter. (As you know, I write from experience about this.)

Beyond that, some decry the increasing chain ownership of media outlets. That, however, is not a blanket statement one can really make. There are good media companies and bad media companies, and there are good family-owned media outlets and there are bad family-owned media outlets.

To believe that the media is or should be immune to the laws of economics is naive. The medias biggest financial problem is increased competition for its top source of revenue, advertising. When profit margins shrink or disappear, business decisions are made.

The biggest problem with this, though, is the assumption there is common ground in our society today. Where? In what? And why is it the media’s job to reinforce it? The media is supposed to report the news, without fear or favor, and without a reporters opinion.