Jump­ing on the grenade

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - VOICES - John Brum­mett

It most cer­tainly does not dis­grace all of jour­nal­ism if an em­ployee of a me­dia or­ga­ni­za­tion crit­i­cizes his com­pany.

That’s stan­dard be­hav­ior—of a me­dia work­place, or your work­place, or any work­place.

No­body ever said or in­ti­mated oth­er­wise, as far as I know, un­til Tues­day.

That was when our state’s chip off the old huffy block, Mike’s and Janet’s daugh­ter Sarah Huck­abee San­ders, spewed forth in the White House press brief­ing room. She did so in of­fi­cial be­half of the sim­ple­ton dem­a­gogue who is our pre­pos­ter­ous sec­ond-place pres­i­dent.

She was sac­ri­fic­ing her­self once more to find a way to sup­port this in­ex­cus­able man, Don­ald Trump.


At is­sue was his as­ser­tion that the great­est news or­ga­ni­za­tions in the world re­port “fake news.” That’s what he calls ac­cu­rate re­ports of wrong, non­sen­si­cal or dis­hon­est things he’s said or done.

He specif­i­cally de­spises CNN, which re­cently apol­o­gized for and re­tracted a false story, as it should have, and let three peo­ple go.

It can hap­pen to any­body. Trump, for ex­am­ple. His fake news that Barack Obama was not a ci­ti­zen, that the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion bugged Trump Tower, that James Comey ought to worry about tapes and that his in­au­gu­ral crowds dwarfed Obama’s—wrong, ev­ery one; re­tracted never promptly if at all, and cer­tainly never apol­o­gized for. And Trump didn’t re­sign or get fired, re­gret­tably.

San­ders, fill­ing in for Sean Spicer as the daily White House briefer, re­ferred the White House press corps to an un­der­cover video from a rightwing at­tack artist.

She in­voked the video al­though she said she didn’t know if it was ac­cu­rate.

Let me re­peat that in case you skipped past it with­out spray­ing your cof­fee: The of­fi­cial White House spokesman, while ac­cus­ing the me­dia of spread­ing fake news, spread news she ad­mit­ted might be fake.

It wasn’t. The video was a real thing. A point­less thing, but, still, a real thing.

The un­der­cover right-wing at­tack artist had be­friended a CNN med­i­cal news pro­ducer. He got the CNN med­i­cal news pro­ducer to say in a con­ver­sa­tion, which the CNN med­i­cal pro­ducer didn’t know was be­ing recorded, that his net­work’s fo­cus on the Trump-Rus­sian in­ves­ti­ga­tion was mis­taken and “bull **** ” and that Trump prob­a­bly was right to view it as a witch-hunt.

That’s not even a dis­grace for CNN alone, which promptly ex­plained that its em­ploy­ees are free to speak their minds.

To be fair, the med­i­cal news pro­ducer may be too busy lin­ing up guests to ap­pear on seg­ments about low testos­terone in ag­ing men to be in­ti­mately fa­mil­iar with the ins and outs of the po­lit­i­cal cov­er­age.

It could be that the CNN po­lit­i­cal pro­fes­sion­als agree pri­vately with my view ex­pressed in this col­umn. It is that Trump prob­a­bly didn’t col­lude with Rus­sia and that his ob­struc­tion of jus­tice in lean­ing on and fir­ing Comey prob­a­bly won’t amount to what the Repub­li­can Congress will find an im­peach­able of­fense.

But news pro­fes­sion­als must stay on the scent if a spe­cial coun­sel and con­gres­sional in­ves­tiga­tive com­mit­tees are leav­ing one.

It is true, and trou­bling, that the med­i­cal news pro­ducer on that video said CNN’s man­age­ment was push­ing the Rus­sian col­lu­sion an­gle for rat­ings. But that’s more an in­dict­ment of the cable television 24-hour all-news cul­ture, which is light years re­moved from the sum of all jour­nal­ism.

Fox pushes its an­gle for rat­ings. So does MSNBC. So, too, CNN, ap­par­ently. Th­ese are niche en­ter­prises pur­su­ing niche mar­kets. They’re gen­er­ally bad for our di­a­logue.

But this spe­cific is­sue comes down to th­ese kinds of per­son­ally ap­pli­ca­ble ques­tions:

Have I ever pri­vately crit­i­cized the Demo­crat-Gazette’s news judg­ment or an ed­i­to­rial po­si­tion? Or even done so pub­licly, such as last week in re­marks to the state Demo­cratic Party ex­ec­u­tive com­mit­tee?

Or did I ever pri­vately crit­i­cize the Arkansas Gazette when I was with it? Or even pub­licly, such as the time the rel­a­tively new Gan­nett own­ers ban­nered my col­umn across the top of the front page the morn­ing I was speak­ing to the Po­lit­i­cal An­i­mals Club?

Let me an­swer those ques­tions with one word: Maybe.

Did I dis­grace all of jour­nal­ism in those crit­i­cisms, if I made them, I mean?

I did not. I honored free press and free ex­pres­sion. I cel­e­brated tol­er­ance of dif­fer­ences of opin­ion.

In­tra-of­fice snip­ing is in a jour­nal­ist’s na­ture, given as the na­ture is to in­de­pen­dent thought and cu­rios­ity and—at risk of un­fair stereo­type—envy and iras­ci­bil­ity.

It’s hardly a dis­grace, Sarah. It’s hu­man. It’s Amer­i­can. It’s free­dom. It’s glo­ri­ous.

But I un­der­stand. The hu­man em­bar­rass­ment you work for is re­duced in the polls to his an­gry, un­in­formed base. He can’t dare lose that.

Trash­ing the great and sto­ried Amer­i­can free press feeds red meat to the loy­ally mis­in­formed. It in­su­lates your ego-dis­or­dered boss when the great me­dia or­ga­ni­za­tions re­port un­flat­ter­ing truth about him.

It’s dirty work. I just hate that a nice young woman from Arkansas has to do it.

John Brum­mett, whose col­umn ap­pears reg­u­larly in the Arkansas Demo­crat-Gazette, was in­ducted into the Arkansas Writ­ers’ Hall of Fame in 2014. Email him at jbrum­mett@arkansason­line.com. Read his @john­brum­mett Twit­ter feed.

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