Donald Trump’s disdain, mockery, and antagonism of
the press, whose freedoms are enshrined in the Bill of Rights and whose
presence has provided ballast to our democracy since its inception, raises very
serious questions about his fitness for the presidency of the United States.
For a long
while, these thoughts have been coursing through my veins with concern and
disbelief, and yet my abiding loyalty to the notion of fair, accurate and
unbiased journalism held me in check from saying it out loud – much as I
suspect it has muzzled the true feelings of many of my colleagues.
But we must remember that Donald Trump knows this and cynically plays
the press corps’ deep desire for fairness to his undeserved benefit. The
latest, barring the traveling press from covering an event and using them as
ridicule in a speech, are but the most recent chapters in a novel full of
outrageous acts. And this sentiment apparently extends to members of his own
family as witnessed by his daughter Ivanka’s actions in an interview with Cosmo.
I am well aware that I will be met with bile and
venom for saying this, called a communist, a liberal in bed with Hillary
Clinton, a washed-up joke. To quote Rhett Butler in Gone With the Wind,
“frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.”
Let others attack my motives. My
conscience is clean. This is not about partisan politics, about who is right on
immigration or gun control. This is about the very machinery that has allowed
our American experiment to persist and thrive, a machinery which is far more fragile
than we would like to believe.
Trump’s relationship with the press is at the heart
of so much that is troubling about his candidacy – the secrecy, the lack of transparency
on something as normal as tax returns, the flaunting of the very rules by which
we elect our leaders, the appeasement of hate groups. And his embrace of Roger
Ailes and Breitbart, institutions who have polluted press freedoms, is a
further dangerous sign of decay.
And yet when presented with this challenge, too
much of the press has been cowed into inaction. This is a man who can be
fact-checked into obscurity by any second grader with an Internet connection.
And yet when he issues a mealy-mouth non-apology about President Obama’s
obvious pedigree as an American, here we are with too many in the press not
acknowledging his years of lies (check your Twitter feeds about how the New
York Times initially covered this event). All of this of course sets the stage
for Trump to lie again about somehow birtherism being Clinton’s fault.
I fear that this mindset will infect the debates.
Trump is already setting the stage for that. If you are moderating and are not
going to fact check him, you might as well just roll campaign speeches live —
far too many of which have been shown on television without being subjected to
journalistic context. If these debates will be debates in name only, another
opportunity for Trump to flout fairness by spewing his venom and bullshine, I
say cancel them.
Enough is enough. It is a reality that every reporter must come to
grips with. Trump is not a normal candidate. This is not a normal election. He
will set a precedent that other demagogues will study and follow. Fear,
combined with the lure of ratings, views, clicks and profits, have hypnotized
too much of the press into inaction and false equivalency for far too long. I
am optimistic the trance is being broken. Fear not the Internet trolls. Fear
instead the judgement of history.’