Jour­nal­ist’s job de­scrip­tion: To ask ques­tions

The Herald (Rock Hill) - - Opinion - BY LEONARD PITTS JR. Mi­ami Her­ald Email Leonard Pitts Jr. at lpitts@mi­ami­her­

“The fact that a man is a news­pa­per re­porter is ev­i­dence of some flaw in char­ac­ter.” – Lyn­don John­son

“They are a sort of as­sas­sins…” – John Quincy Adams

“The pres­i­dent of the United States will not stand and be ques­tioned like a chicken thief by men whose names he does not even know.” – Herbert Hoover

“I rarely think them worth read­ing, and al­most never worth no­tice.” – Thomas Jef­fer­son

“To hell with them.” – Harry S. Tru­man

Our topic du jour: What Jour­nal­ists Do.

Con­sider it a pub­lic ser­vice for the ben­e­fit of Failed Pres­i­dent Trump. As he re­minded us Wed­nes­day in a char­ac­ter­is­ti­cally bizarre news con­fer­ence, he has not a clue.

First, CNN re­porter Jim Acosta tried – Trump kept in­ter­rupt­ing him – to ask about the pro­pri­ety of des­ig­nat­ing a car­a­van of refugees an “in­va­sion.” But the rude pres­i­dent called Acosta rude for the ques­tions he asked. Of course, the ques­tions were tough, but en­tirely fair.

Then PBS re­porter Yamiche Alcindor tried – Trump in­ter­rupted her, too – to ask whether he em­bold­ened white su­prem­a­cists by declar­ing him­self a na­tion­al­ist. But the racist pres­i­dent chided her for “such a racist ques­tion.” Her ques­tion, too, was fair.

The man doesn’t seem to know – more likely, sim­ply doesn’t care – that this is What Jour­nal­ists Do. They ask ques­tions, ques­tions that are some­times tough, pointed and skep­ti­cal. That’s how truth is learned. That’s how the peo­ple’s right to know is served.

As the quotes at the top at­test, Trump is hardly the first chief ex­ec­u­tive to dis­dain re­porters. But the vast ma­jor­ity of his pre­de­ces­sors nev­er­the­less en­dured jour­nal­is­tic scru­tiny with the un­der­stand­ing, as Ge­orge W. Bush once put it, that news me­dia are “in­dis­pens­able to democ­racy.”

But Trump is dif­fer­ent. And per­haps that’s no sur­prise, given that he’s a con artist who has spent decades shuck­ing, jiv­ing, de­flect­ing and blus­ter­ing his way past ev­ery mo­ment of ac­count­abil­ity.

It’s telling that Sean Han­nity of Fox “News” is Trump’s idea of a real jour­nal­ist. We’re talk­ing about the Trump syco­phant who, with fel­low Fox star Jea­nine Pirro, ac­tu­ally cam­paigned with Trump, speak­ing at a Mis­souri rally on Mon­day and shat­ter­ing jour­nal­is­tic norms like glass. Some will quib­ble that Han­nity con­sid­ers him­self a talk show host and not a jour­nal­ist – he’s ac­tu­ally called him­self both – but that’s no ex­cuse.

So long as Fox con­tin­ues to iden­tify – or, misiden­tify – it­self as a news or­ga­ni­za­tion, nei­ther its pun­dits nor its re­porters have any busi­ness ral­ly­ing with Trump or any other po­lit­i­cal fig­ure. That’s a bright red eth­i­cal line, yet Han­nity and Pirro stomped across it in muddy boots.

Spokes­woman Sarah Huck­abee San­ders tweeted af­ter the news con­fer­ence that Trump “be­lieves in a free press.” But that’s a bo­da­cious lie. Trump hates What Jour­nal­ists Do. Nor is he alone in that.

But you know the only thing worse than a coun­try where jour­nal­ists ask ques­tions?

A coun­try where they don’t.

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