Truth is the ultimate weapon, but sloppy reporting will dull it…

January 23, 2017

Journalism is under attack from the Trump administration.

And what else is new?

Journalism is almost always under attack by presidential administrations or sometimes administrations cozy up to it and use it for their own purposes, which can be more damaging than a head-on assault.

Right now it appears that in its first days the Trump administration is desperately trying to convince everyone that unfavorable reports are all lies, even though in many things there seems to be so much evidence to the contrary — I mean crowd sizes are always hard to estimate, but it seems clear that way more people turned out Saturday in Washington D.C. to protest the new president than for Friday’s inauguration.

First Trump and then his surrogates claim it is all press lies, and then confronted with the truth they fall back to the size of the crowds is really not important, the important thing was that he was elected.

But Trump and his surrogates have to keep hammering at the journalists because they need someone or something to distract from the truth. Journalists play the part of their foil. As long as they can project the notion that people in the media are spewing lies about the Trump administration they feel or hope they can keep the story focused on what they claim is unfair reporting rather than the real issues.

On the other hand, journalists play right into their hands when they are too cavalier with reporting as fact or implying fact without named or credible sources.

Case in  point, media outlets jumped all over a New York Times story that Trump’s Secretary of Energy nominee Rick Perry (former Gov. of Texas) did not know that the department he agreed to head oversaw the nation’s nuclear arsenal. And so a plethora of headlines proclaimed his ignorance. Now there is a controversy over the fact that the Times failed to cite actual sources and the story itself does not quite live up to its headline or its lead.

As far as I know, Perry has not said what he knew and did not know exactly, but in his confirmation hearing he admitted to changing his mind about the role and responsibilities of the department.

Of course Perry is such a good story. He’s the guy who could not remember the name of the department he now wants to run. During a presidential candidate debate he began naming federal departments he wanted to scuttle, energy was one of them, except when he got to the point where he was intending to name it there was a pregnant pause and then he admitted he forgot the name of it (did not have a clue, did a complete flop sweat). Biggest campaign gaffe in history maybe. But to mis-report something about him or report without confirmation of the facts is a major gaffe as well and has implications on a whole profession and the public’s ability to be accurately informed.

A candidate only hurts himself, sloppy journalists do damage to the whole profession and the public at large.

The best thing journalists can do I think is stick to the verifiable truth and not be drawn into skirmishes with the administration that only serve to discredit themselves. Report the facts and let them speak for themselves, I’d say. But don’t be bashful about reporting those facts. And sometimes when something is important enough, that is deemed so crucial the public needs to know now, then great care should be taken to emphasize that all the facts are not in — and mere rumor reporting is seldom justified in honest journalism.

Gossip and rumor reporting only hurts the cause of mainstream journalism and should be left on the supermarket checkout stands with the tabloids (and fake news sites on the web are a form of as yet seemingly incurable cancer that threatens the lifeblood of journalism).

And simply reporting Trump tweets is not journalism. Yes, he is president, and they have to be acknowledged, but there is more of substance to report and it should be given more play.

I do find it strange that Trump personally and his staff got so riled about the crowd size reporting. I think it makes them look awful silly when they have to lie about the crowd size to dispute reports and when Trump special advisor Kellyanne Conway has to come up with something about while the journalists have one set of facts the administration has an “alternative set of facts”. It’s Trump against the world I guess.

And poor Trump, first it was the gibe during the campaign about the implications of his stubby fingers, and then the size of the crowd at his inauguration.

I guess he is worried that size matters.