Over on Twitter, several people have picked up on WSJ editor-in-chief Gerard Baker’s comments on objectivity and how people should totally trust the press to bring them the facts, unless the fact is that someone lied. (Link: Chestnut Knights of the Equine Order [I think that’s right] AKA Tiger Beat on the Potomac.)
“I’d be careful about using the word, ‘lie.’ ‘Lie’ implies much more than just saying something that’s false. It implies a deliberate intent to mislead,” Baker said, noting that when Trump claimed “thousands” of Muslims were celebrating on rooftops in New Jersey on 9/11, the Journal investigated and reported that they found no evidence of a claim.
“I think it’s then up to the reader to make up their own mind to say, ‘This is what Donald Trump says. This is what a reliable, trustworthy news organization reports. And you know what? I don’t think that’s true.’ I think if you start ascribing a moral intent, as it were, to someone by saying that they’ve lied, I think you run the risk that you look like you are, like you’re not being objective,” he said.
Appeal to authority, abdicate responsibility, admire paycheck, repeat!
But Dean Baquet, executive editor of the NYT was also on Meet the Press, and he reflected on what the paper could have done differently during the election. Written more articles about emails, of course.
Baquet said that while he was proud of the work the paper did on Trump, where the paper missed in their coverage was “understanding the anger in the country.”
“I think if news organizations made a mistake, and I can only speak for my own, I think that we wrote stories about anger in the country,” Baquet said. “We even did a series called Anxiety in America.
Anxiety, anger. They’re both emotions that begin with A.
But, of course, we should’ve done more. And I think people would’ve been less surprised, had we done more. That’s what I would’ve done differently.”
It seems that would depend on who was featured in the articles and the source of their anxiety/anger. Before the election the people I know were worried a Republican president – especially if he were abetted by a Republican Congress – would expose them to violence by the state and other citizens. If the NYT had done regular articles on those people and their anxieties, I don’t think that would have lowered the surprised by election results level.
However, the series the NYT did pull together focused on the big E.A. in rural North Carolina, Seattle, Las Vegas and Youngstown, Ohio; the unbearable sadness of Iowan evangelicals who didn’t like Trump, and a couple of weeks before the election, African-Americans who use or volunteer at a food pantry in Philadelphia. So I’m not confident newlywed lesbians worried that their marriage would be declared void, immigrants worried they’d be chased out of the country or Muslims worried they would have to submit to some sort of registry would have gotten much ink.
At any rate, the punchline:
Baquet noted that while Trump has been well-investigated by the press there are still some “huge, unanswered questions,” including how wealthy he is, what he owns, and how much debt he has.
Investigated and covered aren’t synonyms. And it is too bad there isn’t an organization that could keep hammering away at the fact that Trump was refusing to answer those huge unanswered questions, and write about its attempts to find those answers and what the failure to divulge that information might mean and so on because one of the functions of a healthy and useful press is to pester the fuck out of the powerful until someone cracks and answers the questions, or does something stupid and worthy of coverage and with Trump the latter is always a dead cert.
And if that was too much work, there was always the racism (or the sexism). But instead we got emails.