(Given the dangers of the illegitimate presidency of Donald Trump, Blue Oklahoma will for now donate approximately half of its posts to national issues, especially those that raise the specter of contravening or threatening our country’s democratic structures. What this means in a pragmatic sense is that every other post will focus on something that might be only tangentially related to Oklahoma.—Kurt Hochenauer)
I read 140 front pages. The New York Times was the only paper to call Trump out for his brazen deceit yesterday. pic.twitter.com/M2jviGGQLF
— Daniel Dale (@ddale8) January 22, 2017
It might seem counter productive right now to criticize the reporting in The New York Times given the grave threat this nation faces by the authoritarian President Donald Trump. We need as many reasoned, intelligent voices as possible.
After all, we have been told that since the election subscriptions have increased “tenfold” at The Times, although it remains unclear to me just what type of subscriptions—digital, print, trial—these represent and how much reading is really happening. The larger question is whether The Times can hold on to the subscribers.
I’m not, of course, generally against skyrocketing interest in what is widely considered not only the best daily newspaper in the world but also the model for journalism in general. But the model part of its reputation and influence is where the problem resides. This problem of The Times as a model has reached a breaking point with the election of Trump and his craven disinformation tactics.
Although just over the weekend there was an extremely hopeful sign, The Times remains tied to an old-school type of objective reporting that has become about itself rather than the truth. This is a sentence level issue. I’m not the first to make this argument. When journalistic outlets quote lies from people in power—even when uttered by the president of the United States—they should be reported as lies. Words like lie, lying, false, falsehood, distortions, wrong, error, etc., should become a normal part of the journalistic lexicon under a Trump presidency. No one should be allowed to obviously lie in a newspaper story these days without the lie getting defined openly and, frankly, just for what it is.
If this is seen as advocacy journalism, then so be it. The Times and other media outlets simply will not exist under a fascist regime anyway unless reporters and editors are completely compromised by that regime. What we do know is that Trump is a serial liar appealing to a group of Americans unconcerned with this atrocious aspect of his behavior. His every utterance, unless completely mundane, should be considered as a lie until it has been vetted and explored in detail, especially when he offers evidence for any official decision he makes. These are not normal times. Trump’s lies are not typical political distortions. They are brazen and calculated.
There are reasons the media is at this point. The fragmentation and explosion of web sites, some reliable, many not, have led us to this dangerous point in our history, along with fake news, clickbait and the unvetted Facebook. Most of us on Facebook, for example, have had “friends” post something so obviously false and easily checked—a story about a celebrity’s death, for example, to cite the innocuous example—that it has become a routine element of social media. We laugh this off at our own peril.
Meanwhile, The Times and other major newspapers have remained stuck in the pyramid-style, tell-both-sides, who-what-why-where-when type of reporting that only increases the information confusion and gives credence to whatever truth or reality one wants to believe. Obviously, this sets the framework for the type of fascism as it manifested itself in the twentieth century.
Another element of old-guard journalism is the non-intrusive narrator, which clouds the truth even more. Reporters need to write more often in first-person and give their reasons for framing a story in whatever frame they use. Sample sentence: “I checked the statistics in the report, discussed it with my editors [insert names here] and talked for an hour with [insert expert here] and have concluded [insert politician here] is trying to manipulate facts and present blatant falsehoods to benefit their career.”
The major television news networks remain tied to an entertainment model of presenting the news, of course, but all this pertains to them as well. I’m unsure, however, how tied television news is, anymore, to a truth standard, expect for live coverage of disasters. This is the era of Fox News, or the big lie, when it comes to television. Fox owns the narratives and frames.
Back to the The Times. Over the weekend Trump and his main spokesperson lied so brazenly to the American people that it became an astonishing moment in our history. Trump and spokesperson Sean Spicer claimed attendance at Trump’s inaugural was much larger than it was, and Trump claimed he had never criticized the Central Intelligence Agency in the past. The overall facts, the history, records, photographs proved them to be blatantly lying.
To its credit, The Times reported it truthfully and without all the usual journalistic qualification. Here was a web headline over the story: “With False Claims, Trump Attacks Media on Turnout and Intelligence Rift.” The print headline, even more powerful, can be viewed above. This was the story’s first paragraph
President Trump used his first full day in office on Saturday to unleash a remarkably bitter attack on the news media, falsely accusing journalists of both inventing a rift between him and intelligence agencies and deliberately understating the size of his inauguration crowd.
Note the words “falsely accusing” and “deliberately understating.” That’s truthful reporting.
It’s important to note that Trump’s lies came as millions of people participated in women’s right marches throughout the country, marches heavily centered on the president’s misogynistic statements and utterances. Trump’s Saturday lies were deliberately timed as well. Trump is the master of stealing the story, even if it means making bizarre claims. This deflects all attention back to him.
There’s no doubt that many reporters and editors at The Times and other major newspapers want to report the truth, but they will have to make the final break from most of the old journalistic rhetorical structures on the sentence level to do so. If they don’t do so, then it’s just another form of complicity with Trump.