Critical Thinking

How Can Journalists Create More Unity Against Trump’s Anti-Press Tactics?



A former editor described Donald Trump as a ‘magician’ who has ‘led (journalists) by their noses around the circus ring by his cheap acts.’ How can journalists create more unity against Trump’s tactics?

Tatiana Diaz, 30, sophomore, Grand Rapids (Mich.) Community College

Diaz is pursuing a career in journalism and is editor-in-chief of the student-run newspaper, The Collegiate.

Since the beginning of his presidency, Donald Trump has attacked journalists for their seemingly biased reporting and labeled any news unfavorable to him as fake news, causing the public to cast doubt on otherwise credible news organizations like CNN, the New York Times, etc. This obscure war on journalism is merely one example of Trump’s tactics used to distract journalists and the public from the real story or from what is really going on in Washington with his administration.

The president is using Twitter as his personal newspaper to communicate directly with the public. This is yet another tactic that keeps journalists running around the circus ring, diverted from the real issues—like his connection to Russia and Russia’s possible meddling into the 2016 presidential election. And so far, his tactics have worked. Time and time again we are entertained by the shiny dangling keys in front of us noting his remarks on certain foreign countries as “shitholes” and blaming Democrats for our nation’s immigration troubles as newsworthy without focusing on the bigger picture.

Trump’s war on journalism created an “us versus them” rabbit hole which we will never escape unless we—journalists—put an end to it. The answer is simple: journalists can expose Trump’s tactics by simply doing their jobs and not fighting back. This isn’t a war. Journalists have an obligation to the public, to report the truth and protect democracy with every story published no matter who the president is.

Margaret Sullivan, media columnist, Washington Post

Sullivan joined the Washington Post in 2016.  Previously, she served as the New York Times’ longest-serving, and first female, public editor. She began her career at the Buffalo (N.Y.) News.

 The best way to sum up President Trump’s attitude toward the news media might be “love/hate.” He loves the attention, and there’s no doubt that lavish amount of unquestioning coverage he got during the 2016 campaign helped him get elected. But he has also called journalists “scum,” and he has referred to the press as the worst problem in the United States—and of course, there is the constant name-calling directed at the “fake news media” to describe coverage that he doesn’t like. That, unfortunately, is the “hate” part of the equation.

But we journalists shouldn’t follow suit. We shouldn’t give oodles of unquestioning coverage to Trump, but neither should we be involved in a war against the president. My boss at the Washington Post, Marty Baron, has expressed it with beautiful simplicity: “We’re not at war. We’re at work.” The work we do is on behalf of citizens who need accurate information. That requires toughness when we’re under attack. And it requires a constant commitment to fairness.

It’s not at all our job to take down the president—and the journalists I know are not interested in that. We’re interested in digging out factual stories and telling them honestly and courageously.

But this is important: That doesn’t mean doing things the same old way. Confronted with a president who very often misrepresents reality—sometimes indulging in obvious lies—we have to make sure we are not magnifying those falsehoods. False statements, even by the president, should not be amplified in headlines, leads of stories or the top of broadcasts. Yes, what the president says is—by definition—newsworthy. Even if his statements come in the form of tweet storms. But we should be careful to stay with our primary purpose: to find and present the truth.

The linguist and cognitive scientist George Lakoff has one idea of how to do this: It’s the “truth sandwich.” Present the overall, context-rich reality first; then include the president’s statements; then, if necessary, fact-check those statements—all within the same article or broadcast piece. The “truth sandwich” concept can help us think about how to avoid being pawns. That’s important because American citizens certainly don’t need journalistic pawns right now. They need a fair-minded, truth-telling press with a strong spine and a sense of mission.


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