Jour­nal­ists shouldn’t try to win pop­u­lar­ity

Cecil Whig - - FRONT PAGE -

— It was a pa­thetic spec­ta­cle: TV news ex­ec­u­tives and an­chors fil­ing in to Trump Tower on Monday to be the pres­i­dent-elect’s whip­ping boys.

Don­ald Trump had sum­moned them for a talk, but it turned out to be part tongue­lash­ing, part perp walk. The TV news peo­ple had fool­ishly agreed that the ses­sion was “off the record,” leav­ing Trump and his aides free to char­ac­ter­ize the me­dia rep­re­sen­ta­tives as grov­el­ing while Trump be­rated them as liars.

“Trump Eats Press,” an­nounced proTrump Bre­it­bart News.

The New York Post: “Don­ald Trump’s me­dia sum­mit was a ‘f—-ing fir­ing squad.’ “

Drudge: “Trump Slams Me­dia Elite, Face to Face.”

Trump sin­gled out for abuse CNN — the out­let that, with its end­less live broad­casts of Trump speeches, did more than any other to win Trump the GOP nom­i­na­tion.

Many out­lets (though not The Washington Post, hap­pily) seem to ex­pect and crave a re­turn to busi­ness as usual af­ter the elec­tion. They en­vi­sion off-the-record chin­wags with the new pres­i­­i­dent. They ex­pressed in­dig­na­tion when he ditched the press pool to go to din­ner. They’re beg­ging him to hold a news con­fer­ence and de­vour­ing the crumbs he tosses their way. And omi­nously, they’re tak-


ing to heart the crit­i­cism that the me­dia were too tough on him, and talk­ing about re­cal­i­brat­ing their ap­proach to him to re­gain pub­lic ap­proval.

Con­ser­va­tive ra­dio host Hugh He­witt, in a seg­ment with me on MSNBC on Tues­day, said that “the me­dia is re­ally over­play­ing its hand” in its cov­er­age of Trump’s busi­ness con­flicts of in­ter­est. “I think the me­dia is on thin ice with the Amer­i­can peo­ple, very thin ice, and that they ought to just ... dial it back.”

My for­mer editor Liz Spayd, now pub­lic editor at the New York Times, fret­ted that let­ters to the editor are at their high­est level since 2001 and that “many are vent­ing about the Times’s cov­er­age,” in­clud­ing “the lib­eral tint.” Trump, nat­u­rally, used this to fur­ther his cam­paign against the me­dia, tweet­ing Tues­day that “the fail­ing” Times “just an­nounced that com­plaints about them are at a 15 year high. I can fully un­der­stand that.”

Jour­nal­ists need to rec­og­nize that we’re not go­ing to win a pop­u­lar­ity con­test with Trump, and we shouldn’t try. Trump is not go­ing to be ap­peased by friend­lier cov­er­age. He cam­paigned against the me­dia, and he will con­tinue to use the me­dia as a foil. His party con­trols Congress, and con­serva- tives will soon con­trol the Supreme Court. If he can dis­credit the me­dia, he’ll re­move an­other check to his power.

Our third pres­i­dent, Thomas Jef­fer­son, fa­mously re­marked that “were it left to me to de­cide whether we should have a gov­ern­ment with­out news­pa­pers, or news­pa­pers with­out a gov­ern­ment, I should not hes­i­tate a mo­ment to pre­fer the lat­ter.” Our 45th pres­i­dent would clearly pre­fer the for­mer. He has shut out news or­ga­ni­za­tions, in­clud­ing The Post, whose cov­er­age he dis­likes. He has threat­ened to re­strict First Amend­ment press free­doms.

Rather than cozy­ing up to this new es­tab­lish­ment, the me­dia need to sa­vor our tra­di­tional role as out­siders. Columbia Jour­nal­ism Re­view’s top editor, Kyle Pope, has it right when he urges “a re­turn to jour­nal­ism’s op­po­si­tional roots; it has done re­porters no good to think of them­selves as part of the es­tab­lish­ment or a mega­phone for the con­ven­tional wis­dom. We need to em­brace, even rel­ish, our legacy as mal­con­tents and trou­ble­mak­ers.”

Pur­su­ing pub­lic af­fec­tion is a fool’s er­rand. The pro­fes­sion was never held in high pub­lic

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