August 20, 2017

Dear Press Corps: We Don’t Believe You

By Don Surber

Dear Kyle Pope, editor of the Columbia Journalism Review:

I see where you wrote an open letter to President Trump “to clarify how we see the relationship between your administration and the American press corps.”

Your letter was 935 words. You are a fine writer. You made several good points.

After reading newspapers since I was six, I can clarify how readers now see the relationship between us and the American press corps. I do so in four words.

We don’t believe you.

As a person with four decades in newspapering, now retired, I do not blame your readers in the least. This election cycle has shown that the news business is dominated by social justice warriors who push a narrative rather than tell stories in a fair and balanced manner.

From John Harwood asking Trump in a debate if he was running a comic book campaign, to John Harwood secretly asking questions from the Clinton campaign, to Donna Brazile giving the Clinton campaign debate questions ahead of time, no intelligent voter should trust the news media to deliver news that is fair, impartial, and balanced. I thank you, personally, for opening our eyes once and for all to the folly of the Fourth Estate.

July 15, as Republicans began to gather in Cleveland to nominate Donald Trump, you published a 1,604-word call by David Mindich to abandon objective journalism in an all-out effort to stop the American people from electing Trump president. You published Mindich’s piece without disclaimer, thus his words became yours. He wrote:

“To understand this moment, and what it says about journalism’s place in our democracy, we need to explore two things that trigger journalists to call speech dangerous. The first is that journalists rarely shed their detachment in a vacuum. [Edward R.] Murrow, the most respected television journalist of his day, wasn’t the first to criticize McCarthy. The Milwaukee Journal and other newspapers led the charge, and The Washington Post’s Herblock made McCarthy the subject of many of his cartoons. And while President Dwight D. Eisenhower resisted criticizing McCarthy forcefully, other politicians began to, particularly when McCarthy’s targets included Protestants and the military, as the Army-McCarthy hearing would reveal.”

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While journalists lionize Murrow, the truth is murkier. The Soviets really funded the Communist Party USA. We learned that after the Soviet Union’s collapse on Christmas Day 1991 and documents showing the payouts became public knowledge.Who was Murrow to go after McCarthy? What gives journalists license to go after anyone? How does it help a democracy to have journalists determine the outcome of an election?

I don’t mean pundits. I mean reporters.Mindich also wrote:

“The second condition for mainstream journalists to abandon their detachment is when a politician’s words go way beyond the pale. More than his vocal critics, the words and ideas of Trump himself are causing journalists to change their role. To understand this, it is useful to look briefly at a theoretical construction of objectivity by a leading journalism historian, Daniel Hallin, who sees the world of political discourse as falling into three concentric spheres: consensus, legitimate controversy, and deviance.”

Rubbish.

Just quote the man. Accurately. In full. In context.A century earlier, newspaperman E.W. Scripps wrote: “Give light and the people will find their own way.” As the editor of a publication that markets itself as the conscience of journalism, you should have reminded Mindich of Scripps motto — and spiked the column.

Instead, you allowed Mindich to make a sophist case for abandoning journalism in favor of constantly attacking a political candidate whom you did not like. Which leads me to your letter, in which you demanded fairness from Trump after encouraging journalists to treat him unfairly.

You allowed that, “Access is preferable, but not critical.” But you stated, “Off the record and other ground rules are ours—not yours—to set.” Actually, they are agreed to mutually.

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You wrote, “We decide how much airtime to give your spokespeople and surrogates.”

>We know. We saw this throughout the campaign. However, journalism requires telling both sides of the story.We don’t believe you.

Instead of demanding President Trump curtsy to you, how about earning some respect?

You wrote, “We will set higher standards for ourselves than ever before.”

What? So you can abandon them again when the groupthink in Washington decides some other candidate is unqualified?

You arrogantly told the president-elect:

“We’re playing the long game. Best-case scenario, you’re going to be in this job for eight years. We’ve been around since the founding of the republic, and our role in this great democracy has been ratified and reinforced again and again and again. You have forced us to rethink the most fundamental questions about who we are and what we are here for. For that we are most grateful.”

How clueless, how utterly and adorably clueless you are.

The vast majority of the American people — both left, right, and neither — do not believe you. The power of the press is its credibility. But this “long game” playing crew of social justice warriors posing as reporters blew credibility that took two hundred years to build on one small election.

Trump owes you nothing.

I owe you nothing.

The American people owe you nothing because — and pay attention this time — we don’t believe you.

Don Surber is a retired newspaperman. He blogs at Don Surber.
He is the author of Trump The Press, which covered the nomination.He plans to publish a sequel  covering the election.