The Media Today

A united front in defense of the press

August 16, 2018

Pick up a copy of your local paper today, and it’s likely you’ll find within a defense of the free press. More than 350 newspapers have responded to the call put out by Boston Globe deputy editorial page editor Marjorie Pritchard to unite in the face of President Trump’s criticism of the media. From Georgia to Nebraska to Oregon, editorial boards are weighing in on the importance of the work that journalists do.

“Today in the United States we have a president who has created a mantra that members of the media who do not blatantly support the policies of the current US administration are the ‘enemy of the people,’” reads the Globe’s offering. “This is one of the many lies that have been thrown out by this president.” In its editorial, which includes excerpts from across the country, The New York Times notes that “these attacks on the press are particularly threatening to journalists in nations with a less secure rule of law and to smaller publications in the United States, already buffeted by the industry’s economic crisis.”

While press defenses are necessary in the face of an unrelenting assault from the president and his lackeys, some have argued that the coordinated response plays into Trump’s hands. Politico’s Jack Shafer writes that the similar scripts “will provide Trump with circumstantial evidence of the existence of a national press cabal that has been convened solely to oppose him.” The San Francisco Chronicle raised the issue of independence in its decision not to join other papers in today’s effort. Another thread of this reasoning questions whether editorials have the power to move the needle at all. As David Uberti wrote for CJR prior to the 2016 election, newspaper editorial boards threw everything they had against Trump’s candidacy, to seemingly minimal effect.

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But with the president consistently tweeting “fake news” through the world’s biggest megaphone, a united front from those on the ground is welcome. Not every paper is taking on Trump directly, and the most effective pieces I read were those reminding readers of the valuable work that reporters do in their communities. Despite what plays on cable news, most journalists aren’t focused on Washington; they’re reporting on local issues, working to keep their communities informed of issues that impact their daily lives.

Washington Post Editor Marty Baron has made a habit of repeating that, when it comes to reporting on Trump, journalists are not at war, they’re at work. The implication of the statement is that reporters can’t play into the president’s us vs. them framing. Similarly, the messages in today’s newspapers are best read not as a drift toward war footing, but rather as a reminder that journalism is important work.

Below, a check-in with editorials from around the country.

  • Bangor Daily News (Maine): “[News organizations] are the only way you know when your government isn’t working as it should. They are the only independent way to know what elected officials are doing. Often, if the government doesn’t like journalists, it’s probably because they’re doing their job right.”

  • Albuquerque Journal (New Mexico):  “For more than two centuries—since the birth of our nation—the press has served as a check on power, informing the American people about corruption and greed, triumphs and tragedies, grave mistakes and misdeeds and even ineptitude and dysfunction inside the halls of government, institutions and businesses.”

  • Tampa Bay Times (Florida): “In such a toxic environment, Trump’s declarations undermine not just journalists and news organizations but the communities and democracy we endeavor to serve. It is an attempt to blur the difference between fact-based news gathering, and the lies and propaganda that spread like wildfire through social media. Ultimately, engaged citizens must play the vital role in distinguishing one from the other as they choose their elected leaders and shape civic life.”

  • Bozeman Daily Chronicle (Montana): “We’ve been complacent. We thought everybody knew how important a free press was to our world and that all this talk about us being the enemy of the people would be dismissed for the silliness that it is. But the reckless attacks have continued, instigated and encouraged by our president.”

  • The Salt Lake Tribune (Utah): “This editorial is one of more than 200 such pieces running today in newspapers across the nation….As such, it runs the risk of being seen as a mass collusion on the part of the media against the president. But this is a fight he chose. And it is essential that the press stand up for its right—its duty—to tell what may be unpleasant or unpopular truths.”

Other notable stories

  • A Reuters special report by Steve Stecklow explores why Facebook is losing the war on hate speech in Myanmar. Earlier this year, Mark Zuckerberg pledged to dedicate more resources to combat the sort of posts that had incited violence against the Rohingya minority. Four months later, Stecklow finds that little has changed.

  • For CJR, Maia Szalavitz takes on the “relatable addict” narrative that describes much of the coverage of the opioid epidemic. “The ‘relatable’ story journalists and editors tend to seek—of a good girl or guy (usually, in this crisis, white) gone bad because pharma greed led to overprescribing—does not accurately characterize the most common story of opioid addiction,” she writes.

  • Washington Post book critic Carlos Lozada read half a dozen “hagiographies” of the president, finding that “some are born Trump sycophants. Some achieve Trump sycophancy. And some have Trump sycophancy thrust upon them—since he’s a star, they let him do that.”

  • The Wall Street Journal’s Peter Nicholas snagged an Oval Office interview with President Trump on Wednesday. The 20-minute conversation focused largely on the impact of Trump’s tariff regimen, and Nicholas does an excellent job within the story of puncturing Trump’s inflated claims with actual numbers and context.

  • The Post’s Paul Farhi profiles CNN digital sleuth Andrew Kaczynski, who he calls “the foremost practitioner of the journalistic equivalent of dumpster diving.” Kaczynski and his “KFile” team have been responsible for dozens of scoops about troubling comments by public figures, several of which have resulted in resignations.

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Pete Vernon is a former CJR staff writer. Follow him on Twitter @ByPeteVernon.