I studied journalism in college and one of the publications I was required to read daily was the New York Times. My professors held it out as the gold standard for quality journalism we students should emulate in our work. I continue to read the Times because that hasn’t changed.
It’s not surprising President Trump frequently attacks the Times since its reporters have exposed so much of his mendacity and corruption, many times tapping those closest to the Oval Office. It is common journalistic practice not to identify sources when they ask for anonymity, something reporters have done for decades. Trump baselessly accuses Times’ and other journalists of fabricating these sources when the news about him is damaging, as it often is.
The president is under the impression journalists must only report stories that laud him. That’s not and never has been the role of serious reporters, at least those with any professional standards. What Trump seems to want is fawning media praise for his imaginary achievements, the kind you see in Moscow, Pyongyang or on Sean Hannity.
What some folks call media bias is really news they don’t like. They don’t want to read that Trump paid an adult film star for silence about his affair with her, but if they do, they automatically dismiss it as “fake news” written by a reporter out to get the president. What they don’t seem to know is that mainstream reporters are as critical of Democrats as Republicans. Just ask Hillary Clinton.
Conservatives’ dislike of the media is nothing new. Richard Nixon and his supporters hated the media for reporting the facts about his Watergate scandal, all of which turned out to be stunningly accurate. Without such journalism, the American public would remain ignorant of wrongdoing by elected leaders, and ignorance helps only one person: the wrongdoer.
The mainstream media understands this and its role as truth tellers. The Founders understood it too, which is why freedom or the press is protected in the Constitution. “Whenever the people are well-informed, they can be trusted with their own government,” noted Thomas Jefferson.
Some confuse “new journalism” with what the major news organizations do. New journalism, which often includes a writer’s opinions as published in magazines like Rolling Stone or Vanity Fair is not the same thing as what the New York Times, The Washington Post or the Wall Street Journal present on their news pages. Nor are opinion pieces like this one news. It’s commentary on the news or it might be an analysis of the news, which the newspapers of record clearly identify as such.
To be on the staff of the Times, Post or Journal is akin to making it to the big leagues. These reporters have the skills, tenacity and integrity to cover the White House and Congress. To violate the pubic trust they enjoy is to lose one’s job and any hope of ever working for any reputable news organization. I’ve seen it happen at the Times and Post, when talented writers made up stories or plagiarized another’s work.
We American citizens, as Jefferson suggested, have a responsibility to go beyond believing only that with which we agree. We need to delve into information we don’t like and even consider facts that contradict our beliefs. If we don’t, we deserve the government we get and, unfortunately, that government is on display in Washington today.
For example, the president says the House of Representatives is filled with “do nothing” obstructionists, yet the House has passed popular gun safety legislation that has gone nowhere in the Republican-controlled Senate. Indeed, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has called himself the “grim reaper” of nearly all the legislation the House has passed this year. I know this because it has been reported by multiple mainstream media.
The same media have documented the dysfunction inside the White House, from the more than 12,000 lies and misleading statements the president has uttered to his illegal efforts to coerce the support of Ukraine’s president to help him win the 2020 election to his obstructing the House of Representatives’ lawful impeachment inquiry, which could itself become one of the articles for his impeachment.
Reporters didn’t make this up, as Trump might claim. It’s all factual and there’s a lot more where that came from … if you care to look for it.
Seeking and reporting the truth can be very dangerous. Worldwide, at least 38 journalists were murdered in 2018 for doing their job and another 250 are reportedly jailed. The truth literally dies in the dark in many places.
Thankfully we haven’t reached that point here. What we do have are conservative media pundits and politicians who obfuscate, downplay or ignore the truth, telling followers what they want to hear, not what they need to know.
The reputable, responsible news media, meanwhile, soldiers on, accurately reporting the good, the bad and the ugly. We need to pay attention.