Letters from our readers

Here is a selection of letters and emails we’ve received since mid-November. Please send correspondence to letters@cjr.org, along with your name, address, and any relevant affiliation.    

TRUMP VS. THE PRESS

Covering Trump: An oral history of an unforgettable campaign

The oral history project is simply brilliant. Have you considered adding visual tools like this timeline? It could be used to build a series of interactive timelines that could be used by others on media sites and social media exchanges.

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Better yet, if you were to provide a Google Sheet with the relevant points–headline, date,  source, category, etc.–that would allow anyone to use the material to build his or her own timeline. If we’ll need anything in the future, it will be a reliable toolkit based on truth.

Thank you!
Jerry Hall
Founder, CivicArchive, Inc.

 

Did Trump’s scorched-earth tactics mortally wound the media?

You guys still don’t get it, and likely never will. America is sick and tired of hearing your opinions. Journalism is supposed to give us the facts and let us make educated decisions for ourselves. Nearly all of mainstream media has instead over the years decided to tell us what to think. You think your opinion matters to us, and it simply doesn’t.

You think Americans aren’t capable of making informed decisions. You tell us we should accept little boys going into bathrooms with our daughters or that Obamacare is working, when many Americans disagree. You prop up Black Lives Matter as it ravages our cities, usually for the wrong reasons. (Admittedly, there were a couple of cases where they had a legitimate argument.) You tell us all of these lies and opinions and we are tired of it. We can’t trust anything you say anymore, because it is all biased and opinionated.

So now we come full-circle. You can report the truth about Trump and now no one listens. This is your own fault. Instead of admitting this, you look for scapegoats. It is always someone else’s fault. Blame it on fake news, stupid voters, ethnicity, the electoral college. Blame, blame, blame everything but yourselves. You are now nothing more than glorified bloggers who think you have some kind of power. Reality check: You forfeited any power you ever held by inserting your opinions.

P.S. I didn’t vote for Trump. I don’t buy the lesser of two evils approach. Trump and Clinton are both trash. Media should never have endorsed either. Just give us the facts. Only when you understand this will you hold any relevance.

An American who is tired of your shit (and I’m not alone),

Josh Levitt

 

I read your article and came away with the feeling that nothing has been learned by the media. I don’t pretend to represent all those who voted for Donald Trump, but I’ll give you my experience this election.

I’m 48, college educated with an MBA. I live in the blue State of Nevada with my four children and my wife, who works in the local schools as a substitute teacher. I work in the medical industry. I am a conservative, and skeptical of major news outlets due to what I see, and have seen, regarding politics and social issues. I’ll expand on this later.

During the Republican primaries, I leaned towards Marco Rubio and was amused by Trump. As the primaries wrapped up and it was apparent Trump was the nominee, I told my wife that this may be the first time I vote Democratic. Although I saw Hillary Clinton as unethical, I thought voting for the devil you knew was better than the devil you didn’t know.

As the campaign moved forward, I began to see coverage so lopsided that I found myself sticking up for the underdog. I agreed with some of Trumps positions, like his stance on illegal immigration. I saw the media treat that position as racist, and I was offended that my belief wasn’t treated more fairly. A perfect example of this media bias is a directive that went out many years ago that the media should refer to illegal aliens as undocumented workers, seemingly taking the side of those who support open borders.

The coverage became so one-sided I began to gravitate towards Trump. The more I was called a racist, homophobe, etc., the more I resented the media for its coverage. Then The New York Times came out and gave everyone the green light to treat Trump differently, and my position solidified. The crowning jewel came the day after the election when The Times front page headline seemed to come from the DNC and be intended for those living in Manhattan. A historic win by an outsider that toppled two political dynasties with far less resources was swept aside. Even some liberals were aghast.

Wikileaks emails showing communications between the Clinton campaign and news outlets confirmed my belief in a biased media.

The retort was that the “sausage making” behind the scenes had been exposed and although it wasn’t pretty, that was par for the course. The difference is that sausage making was one sided. I find it difficult to believe that CNN or the Times would let the Trump campaign review an article prior to printing to edit those things they felt were unfair, or to envision Trump creating a list of journalists from the Times, The Washington Post, CNN, and other outlets with whom the campaign could plant a story and never be disappointed.

When shootings occurred that involved an African American victim and a white cop, it was trumpeted as another example of police who were racist and out of control, even in the face of contradicting evidence. Michael Brown was not gunned down with his hands up, pleading not be shot. Yet based on the media coverage, how many are aware of this?

Why the double standard?  Because unlike most of the nation, the press overwhelmingly approves of this stance and feels it is their obligation to teach the neanderthals the error of their ways. I resent a roundtable discussion with one conservative and three liberals.

I could go on with so many examples. Suffice it to say, when I saw the media universally denouncing Trump, all of the negative feelings surfaced and what was once a potential vote for Clinton became a sure Trump vote.

I sympathize with your plight. Imagine if most media were stationed in Provo, Utah and reporters were recruited from Brigham Young University and other conservative colleges. Would you have faith that stories would be written without bias? Probably not. The diversity the media seeks is of color, gender, and immigration status, not thought.  How can you have a reasoned discussion when I am, from the start, labeled a bigot?

Thank you for your time and letting me describe my experience as a Trump voter.

Regards,
Nathan Hall
Las Vegas, NV

 

I really enjoyed reading your article. Anyone who wants to understand how this election year unfolded should read it. It’s a very thorough analysis of the Trump phenomenon. It’s also genuine, because you were looking for real and honest explanations, even if it means accepting and realizing that despite all its effort, the media was not able to show the president-elect’s true colors to the masses. This happened both unintentionally and intentionally, the former when healthy fact-checking articles were not reaching angry America, and the latter when cable media covered the campaign as they did for the sake of good ratings. 

Another thought crossed my mind: Why not manipulate the media to stop covering Trump? Trump reminds me of toddlers throwing tantrums–they do it because they know they will get attention. We all know how egotistical he is. What if he receives media coverage only when he is behaving well? The media could grab the country’s attention by covering the silliest stories like the Kardashians or Honey Boo Boo, the fanciest holiday lights, or the biggest turkey cooked this Thanksgiving. Or cover one of his close “allies” without mentioning him at all!

Unfortunately, that means really poor media work, but that’s only because the average American could care less about important world affairs. I am completely aware that this is a very naïve idea, but the average American is naïve, and sometimes you can only fight fire with fire. I also see how this could lead to a dangerous precedent, but we are living in scary and dangerous times.

Thank you, and your colleagues, for the hard work you do and the all-nighters you pull.

Best regards,
Mouna Mikati

 

During the campaign, television and other media gave Donald Trump millions of dollars of free publicity that other candidates had to pay for. They are reaping the results. Now, the media is repeating the same thing with alt-right conservatives. Instead of ignoring them into oblivion, they are top news in The New York Times and on TV. This is what they relish, and the attention gives them a standing they wouldn’t ordinarily have. People who never heard of them now have. When will the media ever learn? And all for ratings.

Carla Wallach

 

What you fail to understand is that America expected the news media to report fairly and unbiasedly. Instead, the media openly supported Hillary Clinton and tried to shove her down our throats. Not many people trusted her and making excuses for her made it worse. To support one candidate over another destroyed America’s trust in the media. 

Trump won partly because the media came out against him, and we were tired of the Washington game. Trump is change–good, bad, or ugly.

Regards,
Roger Stump

 

I enjoy reading your articles, but lately it seems as if every article on your homepage is about Donald Trump. I understand this is relevant to what’s going in in our country right now, but it seems excessive, bordering on obsessive.

Articles on anything else would be refreshing. Just my two cents.

Regards,
Jim Stanczyk

 

Here’s to the return of the journalist as malcontent

I agree. That said, this section needs elaboration, in my opinion: “the brutal economics of the news business hurt all our efforts, decimating newsrooms around the country and leaving fewer people to grapple with what was a gargantuan story…”

Actually, that needs to be in bold type. Then I would add: from my experience and observations, there has been a certain kind of decimation of the newsroom that is as much to blame as a pure decline in numbers. Layoffs have disproportionately gotten rid of journalists with the experience,  institutional knowledge, confidence, and assertiveness needed to tackle this kind of story. Young clickbait experts are not going to solve this problem.

One more thing: The decline of the newsroom has come with a decline in management ranks. When management feels threatened by and lays off vocal, questioning, outspoken reporters, they are sabotaging the press’s mission.

I should know. After 30 years of daily reporting, it happened to me.

Dayna Harpster
Cape Coral, FL

 

PROHIBITIVE FOIA FEES

Rallying cry for media under Trump: Make FOIA Great Again

The author writes: “The FOIA, notably, places no limit on the number of requests an agency can receive or a person can submit.” But agencies can thwart FOIA requests by assessing “search fees” when they claim that the volume of requests received has produced an administrative burden.

I have submitted thousands of FOIA requests to the FBI since 1981. I often ask that they search for records at both HQ and in specifically identified field offices. Dozens of my requests have produced letters from the FBI stating that I have exceeded two hours of free search time,” so fees are required to continue the search for responsive records. These fees are quite onerous (both clerical and professional search time is assessed, and they usually amount to about $25 per hour).

To make matters worse, when a requester asks for specific details regarding how much time has been spent per subject, or if a requester asks for any details concerning what portion of the request has not been searched, the FBI doesn’t reply. That means I must wait 12 to 18 months for them to process my request in order to learn which locations were not searched so that I then can submit a new FOIA request.  

Lastly, there is another way in which agencies can assure that requesters will not have access to their records: Agencies can transfer records to the National Archives and Records Administration. NARA currently charges 80 cents per page for documents, which means even a relatively small file becomes so expensive that most people could not afford to obtain it. Not to mention that NARA takes more than a year to process even small requests (500 pages or less).

Ernie Lazar
Palm Springs, CA

 

THE WASHINGTON POST’S DIGITAL HISTORY

Revolution at The Washington Post

I’m writing in regard to your recent article on the Post. I worked at Washington Post Newsweek Interactive (which then became Washington Post Media, and then just part of the overall Washington Post newsroom) from 2007 to 2010. The merger with the paper was completed at the end of 2009, when we moved from the 12th floor of a high-rise office building in Arlington’s trendy Courthouse neighborhood that included an amazing view of Washington, D.C., and many of the city’s iconic monuments. Our space and our work were hardly what anyone would call “backwater.”

Also, a story idea: It would be great if someone would look back and do some solid reporting on what WPNI was really doing in its heyday, beginning in 1995 with Digital Ink, the precursor to WPNI. I’m sure that many of my colleagues would be willing to share their memories and recollections.

Amy L. Kovac-Ashley
Washington, D.C.

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The Editors are the staffers of Columbia Journalism Review.