In yet another alarming tweet about the supposedly “fake” news media, President Donald Trump this week assailed the Boston Globe, ridiculing its financial difficulties and charging, with typically nonsensical phrasing, that the paper “is now in COLLUSION with other papers on free press. PROVE IT!”
How had the Globe offended our most powerful and petty elected official? By encouraging the editorial boards of newspapers coast to coast to same-day publish their own, individual responses to Trump’s incessant press bashing and claims that journalists are “the enemy of the people.” More than 300 papers, large and small, from The New York Times and to the Yankton County Observer in South Dakota, responded to the Globe’s suggestion, standing up for the First Amendment and their own reporters’ integrity. Even the Florida Times Union, which endorsed Trump in 2016, joined the chorus.
Trump’s attack on the Globe in particular is scurrilous — and patently ridiculous. The paper has been published daily since Ulysses S. Grant was president, and whatever profitability problems it has are not, as Trump likes to insinuate, the result of editorial bias. Rather, they have to do with the difficulty of monetizing traditional, general-interest reporting amid the glut of information and opinion that’s available for free – or at least appears free – on the Internet. Even with a reduced budget and staff, it’s still an outstanding, reliable source of news.
Well, an exhaustive investigation by Globe reporters uncovered decades of sexual abuse by Roman Catholic priests in the city’s diocese. The reports won the Globe a Pulitzer Prize in 2003 and became the basis of Spotlight, winner of the best-picture Oscar in 2015. Even the Vatican acknowledged, grudgingly, that the expose of pedophile priests was anything but fake.
The Globe won another Pulitzer in 2013, in the “breaking news” category, for its thorough, aggressive coverage of the Boston Marathon bombing and the police hunt for the terrorists. No one in the shaken city doubted the Globe was publishing news that was real.
On Wednesday, just hours after Trump tweeted his anti-Globe screed, the paper reported that the Red Sox had lost to the Philadelphia Phillies by a score of 7 to 4. Sox fans were no doubt disappointed, but I doubt any of them insisted that their team hadn’t really lost, that the Globe had for some reason misrepresented the outcome. And why would it? It wouldn’t make business sense.
None of this is meant to suggest that Globe reporters never make mistakes or that its editorial convictions don’t sometimes bleed into its news reporting. Like all newspapers – including The Orlando Sentinel, the Minneapolis Star Tribune and Newsday, three that have employed me – the Globe is the product of imperfect human beings who occasionally get facts wrong and far more rarely make stories up. The former will get you a reprimand. The latter, when detected, will get you fired. Newspapers, in my 30-plus years of first-hand experience, are obsessively concerned with their credibility. Soul searching about ethics, fairness and accuracy is a journalistic pastime far more common than knocking back shots of Jack Daniels at the corner bar.
What anybody using a fraction of his or her critical faculties understands is that what Trump calls “fake” news is almost entirely just reporting that he and his staunchest supporters don’t like. He not only wants to “control the narrative,” a common enough goal of presidents and CEOs alike, but also to see himself lionized, celebrated, worshiped.
Tough luck. It doesn’t work that way. Never did. In a great, rare country like ours in which the citizenry and the press are Constitutionally guaranteed freedom, Trump can at best expect a wide range of coverage, from fawning devotion by most of the newscasters and commentators on Fox News Channel to the cautiously balanced right- and left-inflected editorials of Atlanta Journal-Constitution to the accentuate-the-negative news thrust and bare-knuckled punditry of The Washington Post. They all enjoy the same freedom to tell it as they see it.
As do I. As do you. As does the President.
News flash: The press is not the people’s enemy, and the President of the United States is not the people.