The Frenemy of the People

Today, more than 300 newspapers banded together to run the same editorial, taking President Trump to task for calling the denizens of the Fourth Estate “the enemy of the people.”

My first reaction was surprise there are still more than 300 newspapers left, but I digress.

I think most everybody can agree the dude knows how to push buttons. I also think we can agree Trump can be truth-challenged, shall we say? However, as someone who watched more than a few printing presses roar with my golden prose splattered on the pages, I think my former comrades are on — as people love saying lately — “the wrong side of history.”

It isn’t that the free press is the enemy of the people.

It’s that you’re screwing up — royally and often. And these mistakes are so grievous that they make you nobody’s friend.

You cannot speak truth to power when you do not speak the truth in the first place. It is just that simple.

This should be a time for nationwide media introspection instead of pearl-clutching. Because — and I’m genuinely stunned I seem like the only one who realizes this — the antedote to being called “fake news” is to be accurate.

If the national press had its facts were straight, and it does not, CNN’s resident moralist Jim Acosta could reply to Sarah Huckabee Sanders or the big orange villain himself with “Go ahead, tell me where I’m wrong.” I speak from years of experience. I was accused of bias all the time. The only response is to say “where was I wrong?” Prove it.

But there wasn’t much of a mea culpa in the days after Brian Ross of ABC falsely reported of meetings “candidate” Trump wanted arranged with the Russians. It took months to for ABC to finally let Ross go.

Or Zeke Miller of Time magazine claiming Trump had a bust of Martin Luther King removed from the Oval Office. Or the Washington Post falsely reporting the entire State Department leadership resigned in protest over Trump in January, 2017. Or multiple outlets reporting Trump fired FBI director James Comey over funding for the Russian collusion investigation. Or NBC claiming Vladimir Putin confessing that he had compromising information on Trump. Or CNN’s Thomas Frank wrongly reporting Congress was investigating a Russian investment fund with ties to Trump officials.

I haven’t even mentioned the petty side stories about rally crowd sizes or the First Lady that were simply factually incorrect.

You do not have to be positive. You must be accurate. It is your mission.

I might also add that you have to be ethically sound.

Hello, New York Times, does a friend of the people hire a bigot (Sarah Jeong) for its editorial board? Does that sound friendly? For that matter, does a friend of the people look the other way when a reporter (Ali Watkins) has sex with sources? Same, I might add, for Fox News. How did Kimberly Guilfoyle stay employed for a single day after she started dating the president’s son?

I learned a long time ago that choosing journalism as a profession meant I would have few friends, which is why I cherish the ones I have. It is also why it pains me to see the garbage that passes for reportage today. Every misstep adds fuel for the firebreather in the West Wing.

If I took Howard Stern’s self-proclaimed “King of All Media” mantle for a few minutes, I would:

1) Immediately downsize all pundits in print and broadcast media. I would cut the opinion page to a cartoon, a staff editorial and letters to the editor. Punditry on all sides has been reduced to shrill name-calling. Who pays to read opinions, anyway? I can get the same for free from Facebook.

2) Take whatever money I save from that and anywhere else and hire more copy editors. A confession. I hate getting my copy proofread. My ego tells me my articles are as crisp as fine linen. Copy editors show me where it looks like something scraped from the mattress of a Motel 6.

Copy editors are the ones charged with making sure reporters don’t look like damned fools. When the journalism industry started cutting staff, editors were often the first to go because a river of new content was the priority. Reporters had to be saved because getting read was what made money.

Which is a fair argument, unless what is being read is factually wrong.

3) Any analysis piece must not be looked at in terms of vote counts. Did we really know if Obamacare is a good idea? The Trump tax cuts? Not really. We just heard about how it looks in the polls for “signature legislation” to pass. It could be argued that we went to war in Iraq in part because the press spent far too much time wondering if that was good for George W. Bush and precious little time asking if the stockpiles of chemical weapons were really there.

4) No more movie roles. You can’t be a real reporter and interview an actor in a wheelchair about what Superman did to him, Soledad O’Brien. You can’t on Friday, be anchor Wolf Blitzer and assail the Trump White House, but follow that up on Saturday and be actor Wolf Blitzer and break news about MI6 being blown up while James Bond was away.

5) Stop giving a shit if people like you. I have news for Acosta. They never will. I got my first threat at 14. I have been approached and surrounded by angry readers. It comes with the job. Grow the hell up. This is no time to whine. Nor is it time to complain about how Trump’s tweets hold up on a fact-check website.

It is instead time to recommit to fact checking yourselves.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *