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The Press Needs Pressing After A Hard Presidential Season

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The Press Needs Pressing After A Hard Presidential Season

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The press post-mortem, CNN

All the press buzz is about the press itself lately. It’s no secret, the Fourth Estate didn’t bring its A-game to covering the 2016 presidential campaign.

The question preying on our minds is whether we did right by the American people in reporting home truths to them. Or did we get mired in the muck of the greatest reality show on earth? Did we get lost in the trees of Twitter, fake news and all that internet stuff? Maybe it’s a “post-truth” world, after all.

In our democracy, much depends on the answers. We like to think the First Amendment is first for a reason, that freedom of the press is indispensable to the America dreamt of by the framers of the Constitution — Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, all the bright white men in Philadelphia.

But here’s the thing: Broadcasting Donald Trump’s rallies and hate-mongering for hours of free airtime, unedited, may not be what they had in mind. Good for ratings, but in retrospect, wrong.

Duck if you can; there’s a lot of guilt and angst flying around Cambridge, Massachusetts, New York and down south to Washington, D.C. The usual rituals have unusual urgency.

At the Kalb Report at the National Press Club, host Marvin Kalb voiced the question of whether a Trump administration will crack down on press freedom. That’s not far-fetched, considering Trump’s open hostility to the media. Kalb, a journalism sage, remembers the good old days when candidates didn’t shout and hurl, “Corrupt!” or “Dishonest!” to the gaggle of reporters trying to do their job.

Trump’s blustering late-night tweets were a way to run around deadlines and the newsroom vetting process, to communicate directly and grow his base, letting loose insults and leaving claims and facts unchecked.

In fits, Trump ripped up the press paradigm of how to cover a presidential candidate. In his first political rodeo, with nothing to lose, he invented a new way to win — lobbing over our heads, always angry or gloating. At first, the press and the public found him more entertaining than others in the Republican field.

That raised a question for the presidential debate moderators, two of whom were Kalb’s guests, Martha Raddatz of ABC News and Chris Wallace of Fox News. Over the 90 minutes, if a candidate makes a false claim, should the moderator correct him or her? Millions of Americans are watching and making up their minds. The answer from Raddatz and Wallace was no, that’s not our job. Let the other candidate say so.

That’s old-school neutrality, but the game has changed so much that it’s time the press becomes more aggressive, too — in the moment, as it happens. We like to scrutinize events at our desks, stewing over coffee, but we have to change with the times, too.

As the president-elect appoints his cabinet, he is sending in the Marines to three major military or homeland security posts. That’s troublesome, but the nightly news is not going to say so. Newspapers have suffered financially over the last decade and some have even physically shrunk and seen their buildings blown up (the Miami Herald.) But it’s no time to be shy when we have a Caeser-like ruler riding into Rome who’d like to silence us into submission. And it’s time to fight back against the fake news “epidemic,” as Clinton said on Capitol Hill on Thursday.

Martin Baron, executive editor of The Washington Post, issued a memo on media harassment and ended it: “Just do your job.” But the climate is changing — indoors and out. (In a glaring omission, the debates failed to discuss climate change.)

One thing’s for sure: If Hillary Clinton had won the presidency, yet lost 2.5 million votes in the popular count, we’d never hear the end of the outrage on Fox, talk radio and on the Breitbart website. Am I “right?”

The cuts and blows to truth are still raw. Looking back at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, where opposing campaigns met to debrief, Jennifer Palmieri, Clinton’s director of communications, declared, “I would rather lose than win the way you guys did.”

The late Senator Pat Moynihan wisely said, “Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not to his own facts.”

Clinton did her level best, and we played by press rules. But not all was fair in the public square.

To find out more about Jamie Stiehm and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit www.creators.com.

IMAGE: A man hands a newspaper to a customer at a news stand in New York, U.S., November 9, 2016. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton

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3 Comments

  1. Aaron_of_Portsmouth December 9, 2016

    It is our hope that responsible journalists won’t be cowed into some silence regarding the controversies swirling around Trump. This anomaly garbed in the physical shape of a human deserves a bright spotlight shone on him at all times. Donald’s personality flaws demand constant scrutiny and if this annoys him, then that’s too bad.

    It’s also incumbent on journalists to be trustworthy and imbued with saintly characteristics so that they won’t become mere tools manipulated by corrupt individuals whose main purpose for living is to sow the seeds of dissension by spreading lies, disinformation, and base accusations having no basis in truth.

    To help put the responsibility of journalism in proper perspective, it would be helpful for journalists, and others, to review once again and reflect on a portion of a Tablet called “Tarazat”(Ornaments) penned by Baha’u’llah in Arabic in the latter half of the 19th century. The following excerpt from the 6th Taraz(Ornament) was penned by Baha’u’llah in the latter half of the 19th Century during the first leg of a forced exile from his native land of Persia(Iran today)—an exile imposed on Him by the Ottoman Empire in collusion with the Muslim clergy and government officials in Persia:

    ———————————————————————————————————-

    “In this Day the secrets of the earth are laid bare before the eyes of men. The pages of swiftly-appearing newspapers are indeed the mirror of the world. They reflect the deeds and the pursuits of divers peoples and kindreds. They both reflect them and make them known. They are a mirror endowed with hearing, sight and speech. This is an amazing and potent phenomenon. However, it behoveth the writers thereof to be purged from the promptings of evil passions and desires and to be attired with the raiment of justice and equity. They should enquire into situations as much as possible and ascertain the facts, then set them down in writing.
    Concerning this Wronged One, most of the things reported in the newspapers are devoid of truth. Fair speech and truthfulness, by reason of their lofty rank and position, are regarded as a sun shining above the horizon of knowledge….”

    ———————————————————————————————————-

    From the above we can easily see how the likes of FOX, Breitbart, the alt-Right have clearly veered from the path of honesty, truth, and trustworthiness.

    Reply
  2. Dominick Vila December 9, 2016

    The biggest challenge for the press is not overcoming the effects of myopic coverage of the 2016 election, but the distinct likelihood of a concerted effort to suppress freedom of speech and freedom of religion under the guise of national security, and imaginary attacks against Christianity, including the alleged establishment of Sharia law in America.

    Reply
  3. Buford2k11 December 10, 2016

    the press has a lot of work ahead to make amends for their lack of courage during this election….if they have the courage to do so…

    Reply

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