Jumping on the grenade
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 email@example.com. Read his @johnbrummett Twitter feed.