By Dave Andrusko
We could post six days a week and twice on Sunday stories such as “Study: Media Coverage of Trump 91% Negative Over Past Three Months.” The animosity toward the President which was over the top during the presidential campaign, has reached a new 24/7 intensity. And it’s not conservatives who have come to this conclusion. In its year-end review of 2017, the Pew Research Center reports that just 5% of media coverage of President Trump was positive.
Which is why I found David Von Drehle’s column in the Washington Post earlier this week, ”Could we be wrong?” so utterly fascinating.
Let me be clear before I get started what this column’s primary focus is –and it’s not “have we missed the boat on Donald Trump?” Rather it is both another in the Post’s shameless self-promotion—another 811 words of praise for the newspaper’s hay day via the new movie “The Post”–but also a yearning for a virtue voluntarily abandoned.
Von Drehle is celebrating the new film, starring Tom Hanks as Post Executive Editor Ben Bradlee and Meryl Streep as then publisher Katharine Graham, for giving Mrs. Graham her due during the fight over whether the Post should publish “the classified Pentagon Papers despite a court order enjoining the New York Times.”
So what does this have to do with us, other than reading more media preening which comes at the same time journalistic objectivity has been deliberately and willfully thrown overboard?
Von Drehle is celebrating what he tells us was the late Mrs. Graham’s “modesty.” He writes
Modesty ranked high among her winsome attributes. She understood that good journalism is not a romantic sequence of high-stakes showdowns. It is a flaw-specked but sincere effort to learn about the world and reflect it honestly, in little increments, without fear or favor.
Those last few words are a commonplace bordering on cliché. But let’s pause a moment with them. Fearless journalism is not just reporting in the face of adverse power. Another brand of courage is the guts to tell one’s friends that their assumptions may be mistaken. It’s the willingness to push oneself to dig deeper and think harder. To understand bad guys and challenge heroes. To ask ourselves why we think as we do and could we be wrong.
Put another way, it might be asking yourself as a Post employee if it borders on the preposterous for the newspaper to adapt the self-inflating slogan “Democracy Dies in Darkness,” as if somehow the Post is the lone beacon of light holding off the forces of darkness, aka President Trump.
The remainder of Von Drehle’s column is an alleluia to the ideal of “genuine objectivity” which so “many journalists have cheerfully shrugged off.”
Why might “an open, curious, careful mind” not be popular? With journalists, it requires actually working rather using their tweeter feed to snark endlessly (my opinion, obviously, not Von Drehle’s).
For readers “seeing the world in all its mixed-up shades of gray is not necessarily comforting.” Translated the latter means the readership of publications such the Post and the New York Times hate President Trump with such vitriolic intensity, to even suggest he has any redeeming qualities is to speak the unspeakable.
If you think I exaggerate, just read a sample of the thousands of reader responses to any story about him or Vice President Mike Pence, for that matter. The onslaught is savage.
But what’s the upside of genuine objectivity? Von Drehle says most readers
respect it when they see it. Journalists who strive to deliver it bank credibility in small doses over time, humbly acknowledging their blind spots and errors.
Katharine Graham is having her Hollywood moment because she gave the right answer when history popped its quiz. But her crucial lesson for today is that she asked the right questions: Are we sure we’ve got it right?
Could we be wrong?
My guess is when his fellow columnists and reporters read his piece, they roared with one voice, “No!”
Which is very, very unfortunate. The public’s confidence in institutional media is sinking fast.
The only way that confidence can be restored is to earn it.