Why trans­parency mat­ters

Em­bar­rass­ing for Wall Street Jour­nal to sit on Trump tran­script

The Hamilton Spectator - - LOCAL - PAUL BERTON

A news out­let’s big­gest as­set cred­i­bil­ity.

We squan­der some of it from time to time with mis­takes or in­dis­cre­tions or lack of trans­parency, but we try our best. Some erode it with bias, real or imag­ined, or re­port­ing that is not fair or bal­anced.

Mean­while, there isn’t an ed­i­tor or re­porter in the world who, af­ter pub­li­ca­tion of an ar­ti­cle, hasn’t heard this: “Were we at the same meet­ing? I don’t even rec­og­nize your story.”

But it was a bad week in­deed for the ven­er­a­ble Wall Street Jour­nal, when its tran­script of a re­cent in­ter­view with U.S. Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump was leaked and pub­lished in full by the news agency Politico.

The most com­mon word to de­scribe the en­tire af­fair, so far, has is been “em­bar­rass­ing.” Not only for Trump, who is re­vealed again as his usual in­co­her­ent, hy­per­bolic and non­sen­si­cal self, but also for the news­pa­per, which didn’t fol­low the ex­am­ple set by other news or­ga­ni­za­tions, which have pub­lished tran­scripts in full.

CNN called the in­ter­view se­cre­tive, which isn’t ex­actly cor­rect, but the Jour­nal wasn’t fully trans­par­ent ei­ther. It told Politico it pub­lished only “note­wor­thy ex­cerpts” but that isn’t ex­actly cor­rect ei­ther, as many other pub­li­ca­tions have noted in writ­ing about the leaked tran­script.

Two as­pects of the in­ter­view stand out: One, it is ob­vi­ous the ed­i­tor of the Wall Street Jour­nal has a so­cial re­la­tion­ship with the Trump fam­ily, and, two, nei­ther he nor his staff prop­erly chal­lenged Trump on his (typ­i­cally) ridicu­lous state­ments. There is noth­ing wrong with the first, but the sec­ond is in­ex­cus­able, es­pe­cially when cou­pled with the first.

The fall­out made head­lines most of the week and caused trou­ble for Trump, but we’re all used to that, aren’t we? It is the Jour­nal that should re­ally be duck­ing for cover. This does noth­ing for the cred­i­bil­ity of an oth­er­wise well-re­spected pub­li­ca­tion with a long his­tory of fine jour­nal­ism, and frankly it hurts us all.

The pa­per has al­ready faced crit­i­cism, mostly from the in­dus­try and in­deed from its own staff, that it has not held Trump to ac­count, cer­tainly not the way the New York Times or the Wash­ing­ton Post, among many oth­ers, have.

I know what you’re think­ing: Does The Spec­ta­tor pub­lish tran­scripts? We have not in the past, mostly be­cause we don’t cre­ate them, but there is no rea­son we can’t some­how record such events for ev­ery­one. Af­ter all, our edi­to­rial board of­ten sits down with news­mak­ers, in­clud­ing may­ors, pre­miers and prime min­is­ters.

But not hav­ing a tran­script is one thing; hav­ing one and not pub­lish­ing it, for what­ever rea­sons, is an­other. Such “gate­keep­ing,” as we call it in jour­nal­ism, is al­ways a chal­lenge. Some may be­lieve the ma­jor­ity of such in­ter­views are un­in­ter­est­ing, and per­haps they some­times are, but you might dis­agree, and you might find some­thing very in­ter­est­ing that oth­ers missed.

That was proved this week in Wash­ing­ton, and it’s a les­son we can all learn.

Paul Berton is ed­i­tor-in-chief of The Hamil­ton Spec­ta­tor and thespec.com. You can reach him at 905-526-3482 or pber­ton@thespec.com

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