Sunday, January 29, 2017

Trump Started a War He Cannot Win

On Friday, Donald Trump once again lashed out at the news media, this time for no apparent reason. He endorsed a comment by his chief strategist, Stephen Bannon, that the media are "the opposition party in many ways."

Trump added, "I'm not talking about all of them . . . but a big portion of the media, the dishonesty, total deceit and deception. It makes them certainly partially the opposition party, absolutely."

That garbled prose seems to indicate that Trump is slightly narrowing the number of his journalistic enemies. Earlier, he exempted no one in a talk at the Central Intelligence Agency. There he said, "I have a running war with the media. They are among the most dishonest human beings on Earth, right?"

I'm a journalist. I've never considered myself to be a dishonest person, let alone one of the most dishonest on the planet.

By coincidence, two of the most principled people I've ever been acquainted with, both journalists, died recently. Their passing and Trump's assaults on the profession caused me to spend some time recalling my hundreds of encounters with journalists both as a newsman and as an information specialist in government and private industry. How many individuals do I remember practicing "deceit and deception?" Exactly two.

One was a young television reporter who interviewed me about a Forest Service program. Before he turned on the camera, we agreed that he would not ask questions in one area. To my amazement, his
Trump will be scrutinized as no other has been
second question hit directly in that area. I learned from others at his station that he was totally dedicated to advancing his career, and sometimes bragged about using questionable tactics to enhance his stories. How did that work out for him? Several months after he embarrassed me, he disappeared from the airways and never was seen on television again. Apparently his supervisors did not endorse deception.

The other miscreant was a reporter for a small radio station. He taped a speech I gave at a luncheon following the announcement of the closing of a Job Corps Center operated by RCA where I served as public relations coordinator. I was astounded to hear his broadcast that evening. The tape of my talk had been edited to completely reverse the meaning of what I said. That reporter merely was running true to form. He was opposed to the Job Corps as part of his personal political ideology, and took every opportunity to show the program in a negative light. Certainly, there are people like him associated with media in small and large markets, but I believe their numbers are relatively small.

It's only one person's experience, but two bad apples in a barrel with hundreds may indicate there is little reason to disparage the entire group.

Above all, journalists who follow the code of ethics that guides the profession attempt to be objective. They often fail. Humans develop biases and it is difficult, perhaps impossible, for anyone to completely set theirs aside when reporting events or selecting which items to include in print or programs and how to present the stories. Nevertheless, the true professionals strive for personal integrity in their work and balance in the products.

When anyone, especially a person who frequently displays his own lack of integrity, accuses journalists of deliberate dishonesty he is making a big mistake. I take Trump's remarks along those lines as a personal insult, and I've been out of the workaday information business for a long time. You can bet many in the media are going to have more than the usual struggle to keep their anti-Trump biases under control. They will try to treat him fairly, but they also will be extra diligent in their responsibilities to serve as watchdogs over government, and they will pull no punches in their reporting.

Mr. Trump can expect to see a whole lot of reports such as the one that appeared in the January 24 New York Times under this headline: "Trump Won't Back Down From His Voting Fraud Lie. Here Are the Facts." An editor who had not been insulted by the major player in the story might have created a more kindly label, yet it is not "dishonest and deceitful."

Trump's assaults on the media ensure his activities will be scrutinized as no other president's have been. Every move will be reported, and not kindly. Who will win this "war"?  We might get a clue from an historic figure who participated in many wars: 

"Four hostile newspapers are more to be feared than a thousand bayonets."--Napoleon Bonaparte


Anonymous said...

Over the years, when I was working in the private sector and in government, , I was interviewed by print and othe media including the Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, New York Times, Miami Herald, American Demographics mgazine, The Nation's Business magazine (published by the Chamber of Commerce), and many other news outlets as well as various overseas outlets. Heck, I even gave interviews to PBS and Al Jazeera at different times. And the Associated Press paid for my trip to NYC to meet with their staff and discuss immigration a topic in which I had expertise.

Reporters were courteous and mostly accurate, reporting facts as we presented them. However, sometimes elected officials don't like what they hear and/or read if they determine its negative.

Previous administrations have been less than forthcoming about "facts." However, Trump's war with the press is disgusting and as bad as I've ever seen. The press must do its job, because its only going to get worse.

What worries me more than anything is the Boobositie in this country that cannot read and cannot engage in critical thinking and believe Trupm is being mistreated.

Dick Klade said...

Dianne: The ill-informed worry me, too. A good recent poll (Washington Post-ABC News) showed 49 per cent of Americans believe Trump is being treated fairly by media; 47 per cent disagreed. The poll also showed 57 percent thought Trump was treating media unfairly. Just 38 per cent thought he was being fair to media. Those majorities are way too thin. The primary reason Trump looks bad in the media is because they are reporting exactly what he says and does.

PiedType said...

I've despaired for years as the objective journalism and investigative reporting I was taught seemed to fade away and be replaced by blatently biased advocacy journalism. Or no journalism at all -- just discussion, editorializing, speculation, hypothesizing, tweets from the public, etc. I'm sorry it took something as bad as a President Trump to convince the media to resume serious fact-checking and investigation, validation of facts and sources, and just plain hardcore journalism. Of course, the damage has been done; Trump was elected. And I worry a great deal about the large percentage of our population that would vote for a man like that.

Dick Klade said...

"Advocacy journalism." Ah yes, Pied. Four years ago I was on a committee organizing a symposium about the shrinking number of newspapers. With me was a journalist who had been a reporter for years with the Ann Arbor (MI) daily and United Press International and the one journalism professor at Western Michigan U. The professor informed us he now taught advocacy journalism. We were curious, and then appalled, when he explained. We journalists concluded that he really was teaching the press agent part of public relations in disguise. If Trump has succeeded in driving reporting and editing back to fundamental objectivity, he will have done perhaps the only good thing he will do.

Kay said...

I loved when I saw this:
"CNN anchor Jake Tapper reacted to chief strategist and senior counselor Steve Bannon’s statement that “The media should be embarrassed and humiliated and keep its mouth shut and just listen for awhile,” with “Ha, no.”

No. Definitely no. It's up to the media to fact check and keep us all informed of the stupidity that is running rampant around the White House right now.

joared said...

"The primary reason Trump looks bad in the media is because they are reporting exactly what he says and does."
That pretty well sums it up. I wholeheartedly agree with your assessment of the press.

There are so many information sources today, also individuals calling themselves newspersons but not following basic journalistic standards. Readers/listeners need to be very selective about the sources they choose to follow for factual information. Unfortunately, some simply don't discern opinion from factual news, realize they're receiving "spin" on storiess either.

Jhawk23 said...

Absolutely correct, the media must continue to do their job of reporting as factually as possible. I'm less certain how great an impact that will have, given that Trump supporters simply discount what the "mainstream media" report, and turn to sources that they like better.

As for Trump himself, methinks he doth protest a little too much. Like many an enfant terrible, he professes publicly that ANY publicity is good; but more to the point, a populist demagogue typically excoriates the media because he maintains power by portraying himself and his followers as surrounded by hostile forces.

Anonymous said...

Just caught up with you Dick. Sorry, but I thought you were still having a snooze.

Here in the UK there has been a big on going fight over 'gagging' the press by legislation as follows ...

"Section 40 of the 2013 Crime and Courts Act is set to change dramatically how newspapers, magazines, websites, blogs and more can stand up for themselves.

If enacted by the government, it will force newspapers to pay both sides’ legal bills if they get sued - even if the story is provably true and the publisher wins the case.

Such a bill would particularly hit struggling local newspapers, with fears it will let the subjects of negative stories use the threat of bankruptcy to stop stories getting out."

Trump is not the only one who fears the media.

Dick Klade said...

Wow. John, a law like that would probably kill all the print media in this country, as it probably also would in the UK. Incidentally, we were taught in journalism school that U.S. libel laws and press protections evolved from British common law.