Friday, January 27, 2017

Media Needs Trump More than Trump Needs Media

Media Needs Trump More than Trump Needs Media
Commentary by Sanford D. Horn
January 27, 2017

Prior to unleashing the onslaught of executive orders, Barack Obama reminded the Republicans in Congress and the American people, that he was armed with a pen. Actually it seemed more like a threat. Now that there’s a new sheriff in town, President Donald Trump is armed with Twitter. It is fair to suggest the media needs Trump more than Trump needs the media.

While the war of words continues to be waged between the White House and the Fourth Estate, there is something to Trump’s oft-asserted view that the media is generally dishonest. Include overwhelming left wing bias and overt hostility along with the dishonesty.

One of Thomas Jefferson’s more frequently cited quotes is: “Were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.”

That was prior to Jefferson ascending to the White House. Six years into his administration he said: “Nothing can now be believed which is seen in a newspaper. Truth itself becomes suspicious by being put into that polluted vehicle.”

The media consists of reporters, editors, producers, photographers, and editorialists. Regardless of the medium – print, electronic, audio, or video, journalists have an obligation and onus to provide truthful information to the people they serve. Yes, they provide a service, a service than can be acquired in many forms and venues should one source prove irresponsible or incapable of delivering an honest product to its consumers. Reporters report. They should not submit creative writing for public consumption.

Unless stated as an opinion journalist, the reporter has an obligation to provide factual data, not opine, or serve as an activist entity. Opinion should not appear on page one of a newspaper – that’s the purpose of editorial pages. When a Sean Hannity or a Rachel Maddow go on the air, it is to opine about the events of the day, week, or administration. The same is true of talk radio, whether from the left or the right, as well as editorial pages of newspapers. More and more news magazines are typically known for their bent, be it a conservative The Weekly Standard or a liberal The Nation, but its readers are more often than not aware of the leanings and know what they are getting into.

When it comes to reporting on the affairs of state, the business of the American government, whether from the Capitol Building, the Supreme Court, or the White House, not only should reporters play it strictly straight, but places like the White House have the right to vet any and all media outlets. The White House press corps should no more have given Barack Obama as many passes as it did during the last eight years as it should not stray from facts when covering the Trump administration.

Having a seat among the White House pool of reporters is not a birth right. If the White House determines a particular media outlet is not honest or fair, that outlet should be punished by losing its White House press credentials and it can then be given to another outlet. If there is a minor infraction, perhaps a suspension. The White House, under any administration, has the right to determine who has access and who does not. Who decided The New York Times should always be front and center in the White House press room? The Gray Lady is most certainly not the reliable media icon the mainstream media purports it to be.

The New York Times is not the only media outlet treading troubled waters. Zeke Miller, the White House pool reporter for Time falsely reported on Trump’s Inauguration Day that the new president had the bust of the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. removed from the Oval Office. That report spread like wildfire and picked up by roughly 3,000 other media outlets before it was determined to be inaccurately reported. The correction was so small it required a microscope to see. Intentional or unintentional, the Miller report could only damage Trump’s reputation, and worse, his relationship with African-Americans, which could best be described as tenuous at the outset. While Miller later apologized for the miscue, the damage had been done. For this infraction, Miller’s and for that matter, Time’s press credentials to the White House should be pulled – at least temporarily.

Perhaps more egregious was CNN’s Jim Acosta who was over the top rude during one of Trump’s earliest media sessions with his constant haranguing, interrupting, and hectoring Trump for a question, as well as rude to NPR reporter and Fox News contributor Mara Liasson during that same tirade. The Trump White House should have made an example of Acosta by pulling his White House press credentials and barring CNN for a couple weeks. Put the rest of the media on notice – their seats are not permanent and incorrigible behavior will not be tolerated.

Make room for members of the media who might not ordinarily get the opportunity to be a part of the White House press pool. For every New York Times there’s an El Paso Times on the outside looking in. The idea posed by White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer to have satellite pool members is a dandy notion. This gives opportunities to those who are from smaller media outlets and can’t afford to travel to Washington to participate in the press process.

Former New York Times Washington bureau and investigative reporter Judith Miller summed it up well on Fox News, Friday, January 27. There should be “fewer tweets, more reporting, ramp back the ego, and get on with our work,” Miller chided the media in general. “We benefit no one getting into a spitting contest with the White House. We should concentrate on better reporting, more accurate reporting, fewer instances of spin and opinion,” said the Pulitzer Prize winner.

“At several papers, reporters have had to be admonished to keep their opinions to themselves when they are doing, quote, straight journalism. I’m an opinion journalist – so I can have an opinion openly – but if you are a reporter covering the White House, I don’t want to see snarky stuff from you on Twitter. The White House has a point. We ought to listen more. If we listen more, we’re going to learn more and we’re going to do a better job at bringing the facts that the American people are going to need to be able to make a judgment about how the White House and Donald Trump are doing,” said Miller. This is the same Judith Miller who spent 85 days in jail in 2005 on contempt of court charges protecting the identity of a source. (There is no relation between Judith Miller and Zeke Miller.)

A good journalist does not inject him or herself into the story. A good journalist does not opine within a news report. A good journalist is honest and accurate in all reports. A good journalist  abides by a source’s request to remain off the record. Having been a part of the media in one manner or another for 20 years, there is a fast learning curve. A trust relationship must be nurtured for it can be lost in an instant and is virtually impossible to rebuild. If the people can’t trust you, your career will flounder and flounder fast. Whether writing a blog, reporting for a local newspaper, the Associated Press, or part of the White House press corps for a major outlet like The Washington Post or Fox News, you are only as trustworthy as your words say you are. There is nothing wrong with the White House holding the media as accountable as the general public holds the White House.

Sanford D. Horn is a writer and educator living in Westfield, IN.

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