Hundreds of newspaper editorial boards across the country answered a nationwide call Thursday to express disdain for President Trump’s attacks on the news media, while some explained their decision not to do so. The same morning, the president tweeted that the “fake news media” are the “opposition party.”
The editorials came after the Boston Globe’s editorial board called on others to use their collective voice to respond to Trump’s war of words with news organizations in the United States.
Trump has labeled the news media “the enemy of the American people” and called much of the coverage “fake news.”
The Globe’s op-ed board wrote in an editorial published online Wednesday that, “Today in the United States we have a president who has created a mantra that members of the media who do not blatantly support the policies of the current US administration are the ‘enemy of the people.
“This is one of the many lies that have been thrown out by this president, much like an old-time charlatan threw out ‘magic’ dust or water on a hopeful crowd.”
The Globe’s editorial board made the appeal last week, urging newspaper editorial boards to produce opinion pieces about Trump’s attacks on the media. These boards, staffed by opinion writers, operate independently from news reporters and editors.
As The Washington Post’s policy explains, the separation is intended to serve the reader, “who is entitled to the facts in the news columns and to opinions on the editorial and ‘op-ed’ pages.”
The Globe reported Thursday that more than 300 of them obliged.
Trump responded to the editorials Thursday morning, tweeting that the Globe is “in collusion with other papers on free press” and that many of the media are “pushing a political agenda.”
A month after taking the oath of office, Trump labeled the news media “the enemy of the American people.” In the year that followed, a CNN analysis concluded, he used the word “fake” — as in “fake news,” “fake stories,” “fake media” or “fake polls” — more than 400 times. He once fumed, the New York Times reported, because a TV on Air Force One was tuned to CNN.
Then last week, at a political rally in Pennsylvania, Trump told his audience that the media are “fake, fake disgusting news.”
“Whatever happened to honest reporting?” Trump asked the crowd. Then he pointed to a group of journalists covering the event. “They don’t report it. They only make up stories.”
In response, the Minneapolis Star Tribune’s editorial board wrote:
Let’s start with a fundamental truth: It is and always has been in the interests of the powerful to dismiss and discredit those who could prove a check on their power. President Donald Trump is not the first politician to openly attack the media for fulfilling its watchdog role. He is, perhaps, the most blatant and relentless about it.
To this president, the journalist’s time-honored role in a democracy is meaningless. Reporters present a fact-finding counter to the fanciful narrative Trump spins daily.
What makes Trump’s undermining of the press worse is that it’s not taking place in bureaucracy’s backrooms. Trump’s insults directed at reporters and news organizations, and his threats to limit press access and freedoms, are front and center at news conferences, at rallies, on Twitter. And they’re incessant.
Not only do they pose a danger to journalists’ safety — history tells us mere bias can progress to harsh words, to bullying and even to violence if society comes to accept the escalating forms of ridicule as normal — but there’s a more insidious threat. Trump’s broad brush undermines the collective credibility of thousands of American journalists across the country, and the world, who make up the Fourth Estate — so called for its watchdog role over the other three branches of government.
We believe that an informed electorate is critical to Democracy; that the public has a right to know what elected officials, public figures and government bureaucracies are doing behind closed doors; that journalism is integral to the checks and balances of power; and that the public can trust the facts it reads in this newspaper and those facts coming from the mainstream media.
Trump is a difficult politician to cover. His tweets and factually inaccurate statements frequently put him at loggerheads with the media. In a vacuum void of his outlandish statements, some of Trump’s policies would earn more straightforward media coverage. It has become a destructive cycle where the media covers Trump’s words and instead of self-reflection following scathing media reports, Trump cries fake news.
It’s a dangerous cry coming from the White House.
The Miami Herald’s editorial board called on Trump to end the war:
We all — as citizens — have a stake in this fight, and the battle lines seem pretty clear. If one first comes successfully for the press as an “enemy of the American People,” what stops someone for coming next for your friends? Your family? Or you?
Not even President Richard Nixon, whose original “enemies list” of the 20 private citizens he hoped to use his public office to “screw” included three journalists, tried to incite violence against reporters. While stewing privately about Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein as “enemies . . . trying to stick the knife right in our groin,” not even Nixon tagged the lot of us, Soviet-style, as “enemies of the people.” Nor did even he dare to take on the idea that our free press is worth protecting.
However, some newspapers decided not to run editorials on the issue, including The Washington Post. This newspaper’s editorial board has previously responded to Trump’s attacks on news organizations, but Editorial Page Editor Fred Hiatt said Saturday that the board would not participate in the organized response.
Neither did the Los Angeles Times.
Or the San Francisco Chronicle.
The Chronicle’s editorial page editor, John Diaz, wrote that “It’s not that we take issue with the argument that Trump’s assault on the truth generally, and his efforts to diminish the free press specifically, pose a serious threat to American democracy.” But, he said, the newspaper values independence — a sentiment that was shared by the Los Angeles Times.
“The Globe’s argument is that having a united front on the issue — with voices from Boise to Boston taking a stand for the First Amendment, each in a newspaper’s own words — makes a powerful statement,” Diaz wrote. “However, I would counter that answering a call to join the crowd, no matter how worthy the cause, is not the same as an institution deciding on its own to raise a matter.”
The Globe’s call represents one side of a debate about how the media should view and respond to the president’s splenetic attacks on the press — or whether they should do anything at all.
Washington Post Executive Editor Martin Baron, who has responded directly to Trump’s attacks, said the paper’s reporting on the president is not a result of hostility. Baron told the Code Media conference in California: “The way I view it is, we’re not at war with the administration; we’re at work. We’re doing our jobs.”
Baron told interviewers that The Post would have approached a Hillary Clinton administration with the same aggressive reporting.
But at least one newspaper said that the president is not its primary concern.
The editorial board for the Capital Gazette in Annapolis wrote that the newspaper is more concerned with how its community sees it.
“It’s not that we disagree with concerns about the president’s language in speeches and on social media,” the op-ed board said. “We noted with regret the hurtful nature of his remarks last month calling most journalists dishonest even as we attended funerals for five friends and colleagues killed in the June 28 attack on our newsroom.
“We’re just not coordinating with other news organizations because the president’s opinion, frankly, is just not that important to us. We are far more concerned about what this community thinks of us.”
Seung Min Kim contributed to this report.