News In The Age Of Trump

An event titled “News and Journalism in the Age of Trump” is not going to be a lighthearted affair. A fractured and frustrated America was represented at the talk, held July 25 in New York, hosted by The Wall Street Journal’s editor-in-chief Gerard Baker and its executive Washington editor Jerry Seib.

Sieb said the relationship between the press and a president has always been “hard and adversarial,” but the Trump administration has made it “much more pronounced.”

He also noted the “nastiness in public discourse today.”

The tension in the room was palpable. Attendees were visibly upset, and expressed their uncertainty of the future and disappointment in our government.

One woman asked the editors: “Is our president mentally stable?”

Another wanted to know, voice shaking: “What do we tell our kids, who are looking up to this guy?”



Given the current climate, both are reasonable questions. 

Political hostility isn’t new, but it has turned increasingly vitriolic, especially online. At one time, newspaper editors, reporters and fact-checkers were gatekeepers of the news. We trusted them to tell the truth.

The Internet changed that.

We no longer read news for truth and information. Too often, people find sites that reinforce their prejudices. Low-quality “news” sites are everywhere. Bias is obvious. Is anyone guarding the gate?

That’s a problem for a democracy – and it is exacerbated by the president’s open hostility to a free press.

One woman at the event brought that point home. She said, sharply: “I voted for President Trump. I think he’s a great president, doing great things for our country. Why is the media treating him with such disrespect?”

Sieb replied: “It’s a serious question. The media’s job is not to be respectful or disrespectful. We should not confuse tough coverage with disrespectful coverage.”

The crowd, however, found her exacerbating. And while I disagree with her confidence in Trump, she has every right to vote and support him. Give her a chance, I thought.

Unfortunately, she proved me wrong. Talking later to a small group at the reception, she spoke severely of President Obama.  

“He was born in Kenya,” she insisted.

“Why do you think that? He was born in Hawaii,” countered a second woman.

“No, he was born in Kenya,” she responded, shaking her head, as if the room had fallen for a grand lie. “He even admitted it in his book.”

I’ve read the book. He wrote no such thing.

“His father was born in Kenya. He has visited Kenya. But he wasn’t born there,” the woman explained.

“He was born in Kenya and he is a Muslim,” she snapped.

That, in microcosm, is the real point about news coverage. We either accept facts — Obama was born in Hawaii and is Christian — or we posit misinformation as truth. Denigrating truth —“alternative facts” — is Orwellian. And as George Orwell noted in his classic dystopian novel “1984” — it leads to a bad end.

Don’t we deserve better?

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