Tag Archives: Opinion

Trump Bans Journalists; Will They Respond with Blackout?

The *President’s Problematic Censorship Needs Appropriate Reaction

Eritrea, North Korea, Syria, Iran, Equatorial Guinea, Uzbekistan and…the US?

Those first six countries are listed by the Committee to Protect Journalists as the countries that are the worst offenders when it comes to censoring journalists.

Will the US join the list?

It’s not as crazy as it might seem. If current practice is any indication, a Trump presidency might well put the US on that shameful list.

You see, Trump has already banned an enormous number of news organizations from attending his events.  Seasoned journalists say they have never witnessed anything like it before in this country.  Occasionally, a journalist will get bounced from a presidential candidate’s airplane or bus, but this is on a scale that’s unprecedented.  The current list of banned media organizations (which, by the way, continues to grow) includes the Washington Post, Politico, Huffington Post, BuzzFeed, Gawker, Foreign Policy, Fusion, Univision, Mother Jones, the New Hampshire Union Leader, the Des Moines Register and the Daily Beast.

And journalists cannot even find out why or what criteria are used to justify their banishment. According to this story, it would seem that a journalist gets banned when Trump reads something written about him or his campaign with which he disagrees and then throws what can only be described as a hissy fit.  This hissy fit is apparently key; after the throwing of the fit, Trump’s so-called campaign press secretary, Hope Hicks, playing the role of enforcer, makes sure whoever wrote the piece is banned.

Imagine now that this sort of behavior is carried into a Trump White House although, in this CNN story, Trump denies that he’d continue the ban if elected.

The Washington Post, one of the Trump-banned media organizations, has suggested that all of the press corps stop playing Trump’s game and join in a blackout on Trump coverage. WaPo opinion writer Dana Millbank gets more specific:

“I don’t mean an outright ban of Trump coverage. That would be shirking our civic responsibility. But I suggest an end to the uncritical, free publicity that propelled him to the GOP nomination in the first place:

  • No more live, wall-to-wall coverage of Trump’s rallies and events; this sort of “coverage,” particularly by cable news outlets, has been a huge in-kind contribution to Trump.
  • No more Trump call-ins to TV shows; this enables him to plant falsehoods with little risk of follow-up.
  • Rigorous use of real-time fact-checking, pointing out Trump’s falsehoods in the stories in which they’re reported. That’s not injecting opinion — it’s stating fact.”

Sounds like a good idea to us.

“A democracy ceases to be a democracy if its citizens do not participate in its governance. To participate intelligently, they must know what their government has done, is doing and plans to do in their name. Whenever any hindrance, no matter what its name, is placed in the way of this information, a democracy is weakened, and its future endangered. This is the meaning of freedom of press. It is not just important to democracy, it is democracy.”

Walter Cronkite; Broadcast journalist 

Truthiness: How Hard Can the Windbags Blow?

Truth, Fact, Interpretation, Misdirection – In An Age of Liars, We Need A Decoder Ring

Think about this: we know the difference between truth and lies. Presumably, we form our opinions from the information given to us. Certainly, this ought to be the case for things like policy decisions. Shouldn’t our elected officials be able to incorporate relevant facts and factors into their plans of what to do next? Stephen Colbert’s “Truthiness” is alarmingly relevant right now.

When I was in college, I took a tremendous class from well-known writer Francine Prose, called “Language, Literature, and Lies.” Though I didn’t know it at the time, it was a great primer for my work in PR. One of the most lasting exercises was to read the same big news story in three major outlets (The New York Times, The New York Post, and The Guardian). We pored over the articles, picking out how the authors referred to their subjects (e.g. President Obama, Barack Obama, Obama, Mr. Obama, the president, etc.), which snippets of quotes they chose to cite, how they framed an issue, and who they gave the last word. Subtle choices conveyed biases. As humans, it is nearly impossible for us to describe happenings completely objectively – the nature of language is that it necessarily filters everything through our own lens; our own version of truth.

That said, while most media outlets use specific language to shape their version of events, they still stick to the same basic facts in news. That’s something we expect; why read or watch news if none of it is true? So it is jarring to note that when it comes to picking candidates for the presidency, many voters are keen to disregard flat out lies so long as they serve a particular agenda. The author of Wag the Dog recently wrote a biting op-ed about this in Al Jazeera, and multiple papers have referenced Politifact’s “Truth-O-Meter” with regards to candidate claims (it ranges from true to pants on fire).

I’m a big proponent of free speech, but I do believe that there is a difference between fact and opinion. Facts are, by nature, true. They are true whether you believe them or not. The converse is not the case. Unfortunately for some of us dreamers, simply believing something very fervently does not magically make it true. There is a danger to pandering to that falsehood. We can handle the truth, and we must if we expect to do anything helpful or relevant in life.

Stephen Colbert: Truthiness

Climate Change and Balance in the Media

We have a couple of clients involved in climate change – esteemed climate scientist Micha Tomkiewicz and a theater group, Theater Three Collaborative; the theater group is trying to fully produce a climate change play called, “Extreme Whether.”  So, we are always on the lookout for developments in climate change and in opportunities to join the conversation.

Recently, we noted an interesting media development on climate change that caused quite a stir.

On October 8th, the LA Times’ editor of its letters to the editor, Paul Thornton, declared that he doesn’t print letters asserting that “there’s no sign humans have caused climate change.” He went on to say, “Just last month, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change — a body made up of the world’s top climate scientists — said it was 95% certain that we fossil-fuel-burning humans are driving global warming. The debate right now isn’t whether this evidence exists (clearly, it does) but what this evidence means for us. Simply put, I do my best to keep errors of fact off the letters page; when one does run, a correction is published. Saying “there’s no sign humans have caused climate change” is not stating an opinion, it’s asserting a factual inaccuracy.”

The right wing news site, NewsBusters, actually kicked off the whole controversy when it claimed that LA Times’ editorial writer Joe Healy, in a longer piece, had said that “letters that have an untrue basis (for example, ones that say there’s no sign humans have caused climate change) do not get printed.” That is what prompted Paul Thornton to write his piece and to correct NewsBusters.

As you can imagine, the responses came fast and furious, especially from climate change deniers, accusing the LA Times of impeding free speech, among other things.  Of course, Newsbusters itself was one of the first out of the gate:  “So letters to the editor ‘that say there’s no sign humans have caused climate change…do not get printed.’  That’s quite a statement coming from a writer not named Al Gore.” And, naturally, the right wing “commenters” were out in force.  “It’s not just in California; liberals in the media are doing it everywhere. The primary tool of Marxism is propaganda. The truth hurts their cause;” “Climate change: this is not science – it’s mumbo jumbo.” “At the risk of stating the obvious, the MSM (mainstream media) has devolved into a Soviet-style propaganda arm for the Washington establishment and virtually every leftist cause brought forth. The fact that the Feral Government is devolving into a fascist oligarchy is undoubtedly more than coincidence.”

For those who believe in actual science, however, it was welcome news to hear the LA Times express out loud what virtually everyone has known for quite a while:  climate change is real, and humans have contributed to it.  If you read the whole piece that Thornton wrote you will see that he is not actually saying that the LA Times will never print a letter in opposition to the human-induced climate change theory; what the LA Times is objecting to is printing the kind of silly, baseless non-scientific claims that are often made by the right when referring to climate change.  Thornton says, “As for letters on climate change, we do get plenty from those who deny global warming. And to say they “deny” it might be an understatement: Many say climate change is a hoax, a scheme by liberals to curtail personal freedom.”

To follow up on the Paul Thornton’s column, Mother Jones magazine asked the opinion page editors of the Washington Post, the Dallas Morning News, the Tampa Bay Times, USA Today, the Plain Dealer, The Houston Chronicle, the Denver Post, and the San Diego Union-Tribune if they’d follow the Washington Post’s lead on climate change denier letters to the editor.  There was a general consensus that most of the outlets wouldn’t publish “factually inaccurate letters,” but, except for the Washington Post, whose editor agreed outright with the LA Times, many of the other outlets responded cautiously or in line with their paper’s editorial stance on climate change.  The whole article, How 9 Major Papers Deal with Climate Denying Letters, is a very interesting and enlightening read and a peek into how editorial and opinion pages are molded.

For us, it brings up the journalistic idea of balance wherein journalists try to get “both sides” of a news story.  But what if there is no balance?  Certainly, while part of the climate change story does include the fact that there are some people who deny that humans are helping to cause global warming, the deniers, by and large, are basing their claims on right wing political views, not real science.   Should journalists feel compelled to include that in their stories?  Currently, the jury’s out on this one, but we certainly don’t think so.