First, if anything good has come from the chaos of the past few months it is this: People are becoming engaged. They know the names of their Senators and Congressional Representatives. They are reading and watching news, most of which is not fake -- it may be opinionated but it's not fake. And it's pretty clear we care about our country. Care passionately -- and that is a good thing.
I learned a long time ago that you can't convince people who are deeply entrenched in a thought -- on any topic. And that, I'm sorry to say, sometimes includes me.
But if I had any advice to give to our president it would be "Stop talking about the press and fake news. It makes you look like a buffoon."
Whether he is or not isn't the issue. His continual harping on the issue doesn't help. It just makes him look paranoid and unpresidential. It doesn't help.
I know some of you may not agree and I hope that we'll still be "friends." But that's up to you.
Without the press we wouldn't know about Watergate. Sunday, Feb. 19, on "Face the Nation," Reince Priebus was advocating the concept of reporters revealing their sources. One of the tenets of the press is that sources are protected. That's how you find out things that merit investigation. Some play out, some don't. But without Deep Throat, Woodward and Bernstein would have had much less to work with and one of the great cover-ups of all time would have remained a secret.
This is personal for me. For more than 30 years I worked in public broadcasting and the station I worked for had both radio and television coverage of news and politics. I was also part of a university department that housed the school of journalism. Over the course of years I worked with many journalists in one capacity or another. I remember being in the newsroom on election night tweeting results as they came in. It was exciting and exhausting.
|credit: Bill Richards, WKAR|
Since 1972 our senior capitol correspondent has anchored a weekly show on Michigan politics with a rotating panel whose members alternate. I worked with "Off the Record" host Tim Skubick for decades and I could not tell you if he is a Republican or Democrat, liberal or conservative. And this has been the topic among many of my colleagues and none of us know. And Tim's not telling. It's interesting to observe that after a particularly feisty program we would get calls saying both that "He was too hard on that guy," and "He was giving that guy softballs." The same guest.
|credit: Stacey Hoxsey, WKAR|
Now, you can say, "Well, that's local. It's different with the president."
No it isn't. It's just bigger. And the reporters aren't different either. They're just better known.
There's an important document we should all be aware of -- the Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics. You can (and should) read the link. But basically, there are several key principles: Seek truth and Report It, Minimize Harm, Act Independently, Be Accountable and Transparent.
In the section of this document on "anonymous sources" the ethics code says: "Few ethical issues in journalism are more entangled with the law than the use of anonymous sources. Keep your promise not to identify a source of information and it’s possible to find yourself facing a grand jury, a judge and a jail cell. On the other hand, break your promise of confidentiality to that source and it’s just possible you might find yourself on the receiving end of a lawsuit." (there's more at the link.)
In fact, laws protect the journalists in this action. They are called "Shield Laws" and they provide statutory protection for the “reporters' privilege” — legal rules which protect journalists against the government requiring them to reveal confidential sources or other information.
Remember when Mary Richards (Mary Tyler Moore) went to jail for not revealing a source? Check out this National Law Journal article to see how that episode was mentioned in a later, related case.
|20th Century Fox / National Law Journal|
John McCain defended the freedom of the press on "Meet the Press" this week, reminding viewers that suppressing the press is "how dictators get started." He admitted to host Chuck Todd, "I hate the press... but the fact is we need you. We must have a free press." (source here. Link to program not yet posted.)
I'm not sure that our president understands what a clown he makes of himself with the repeated attacks on fake news and the press. (Clarification: fake news is "The Onion" (and often that term reflects satire). Fake news is "The National Enquirer." Fake news is not the standard press organizations. They may or may not have some bias but they are calling it as they see it..)
When one witnesses a train wreck, there will be different descriptions of what happened. When I witnessed the train wreck of a press conference the other day I thought, "Of course you have to report on this. A man who is leading our country becomes completely unhinged in public -- and you can't have a bigger public than television. He doesn't listen to the questions (remember the reporter who said, "I know you are not anti semitic but what does your administration plan to do about the increase in hate crimes?" and he was railed at for being perceived as saying Trump is semitic.) It was a legitimate question and a very good one that I'd like to know the answer to myself.
He insulted an African American reporter and he repeatedly referred to fake news.
Well, he made news with that one -- as he predicted in the conference he would. And he should have.
My plea to you is to ignore his Fake News rant. Clear your mind and prejudices and try to listen, and objectively. And I know that's hard. I force myself to listen to Fox News but I do sometimes, because I need to hear that take. Listen to different sources. You will see a variety of viewpoints and clearly some are more liberal and some more conservative.
I am reminded of my first Consumer Behavior Class where we learned about something called Cognitive Dissonance.
This psychological theory is defined as the mental discomfort or stress one has when holding conflicting beliefs or values or when confronted with new information that contradicts an existing belief. For example, if you buy a new car, we are inclined to hold onto our belief that it is the right choice even when confronted by recalls, airbag problems or defects. "Well, I love my Toyota, I will probably even get another one."
We hold tight because we didn't want to be wrong. It's our attempt at internal consistency. Or, as I find in myself, a real tough challenge to admit we may have made a mistake. (Flip flop!)
I hear a lot of cognitive dissonance regarding the election. We make choices based on what we know, what we think is right or on one issue that overrides all others. And sometimes that's what you have to do.
And sometimes it isn't.
If I want to change things, I have to take action (one of my words of the year). We all do. Sitting around and complaining gets us nowhere if we don't do something, large or small (write postcards, march, attend meetings, call to make our voices heard.) So I will continue to do what I do and expect or hope others will do the same.
One last story. When I was in high school choir, we had to sing a song made popular for choral groups by the Fred Waring Singers. The words, "Give us your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free..." from Emma Lazarus' poem on the Statue of Liberty, took a satiric turn ("Give us Fred Waring and we'll ring his neck, huddled in the corner till he dies...").
We didn't have a clue, some many of us being little white-bread and white-bred kids. Then my mother told me about her friend Mrs. Lepkongs, to whom she taught English when they fled Soviet-controlled Latvia after the war with few belongings. And in the years since, I've studied history -- the horrible mistakes the US made during World War II in imprisoning our Japanese immigrants, the tragedy of the Holocaust and a narcissistic, psychotic dictator (who also silenced the press). I've learned that we must open our doors as well as our hearts.
What counts most now -- at least to me -- is that we go forth in love and in measured thoughtfulness. Do what we need to do -- but think about our words, our actions, our hopes for our country as a land of the free.