Editorial License

Rob Hammerton, music educator etc.

Beat the Press

Normally I’m reticent to point to an event as A Turning Point. It’s rare that you can look at an occurrence as it’s happening and know that, well, this could be the moment. We might well remember this moment a long time from now.

I thought I did, this week. I hope I did. My Future Self will read this post, several weeks or months from now, and either shake his Future Head sadly or jump up and down and wave his Future Arms and cry out, “Told you so!!”

But I think this could be The Moment.


One of my relatively few moments of Appointment TV is the half hour of media critique that Boston’s public television station, WGBH, puts up every Friday night. “Beat the Press” consists of the least compelling visual picture on television: five people ranged around a table, not moving much, and conversing.

While it’s not “great TV” in the same way that your average reality show is … thankfully! … it’s good and often great programming. Civil conversation and really smart analysis and commentary about current issues related directly to mass media and the press. On an episode a few weeks ago, there occurred about thirty seconds of crosstalk, and it was stunning for two reasons: first, the panelists are almost always courtly in their “oh, no, after you!” polite-chipmunk style of conversation … and second, the crosstalk was only because everybody was so excited to contribute to the discussion and everybody had a constructive point to contribute. I still wept for whoever was tasked with preparing the transcript of the episode … but there’s so much crosstalk on cable news television that is strictly people yelling at each other that this was refreshing, and worth a grin.

Anyway, last night was a rare moment: during one “Beat the Press” segment, I thought that all five panelists missed the point entirely. And I still like them anyway; but here’s the setup:

They were talking about the Short-Fingered Vulgarian [forevermore to be referred to here as SFV] who is now the presumptive Republican Party nominee (so the press is now obligated to cover him as a legitimate current event) – particularly his mid-week press conference, at which he went after the press in a way that got lots of attention.

The presser had been set up as a way for SFV to answer questions about his financial contributions to military veterans’ organizations. It became a rather stark preview of what life in an SFV presidential administration could be like for reporters: SFV rather freely insulted, belittled, and leveled veiled threats at, the assembled press – and a couple of reporters in particular.

Nearly in unison, last night, the “Beat the Press” panelists took their own shots at the media outlets which had covered the press conference. Their basic point was: shame on news operations for spending so much panicky air time on the mistreatment of their colleagues, when they should have been focusing on the issue that was the point of the press conference – whether SFV was telling the truth about when, how much, and in how timely a fashion he had contributed money to veterans’ organizations, as he had promised several months ago.


I love them dearly; but again, I think the “Beat the Press” folks – in their understandable zeal to applaud the actual investigative reporting, and in their reticence to endorse mass-media navel-gazing (“oh, how horribly the media is being treated!” the media themselves often say, accurately or not) – missed the point.

They were right to applaud the investigative journalism. But they were short-sighted when they consigned news outlets’ hand-wringing about the SFV’s calling one ABC reporter “a sleaze” and telling the political press to their faces that he considered them the “among the most dishonest people [he’d] ever met.”

If you take into account the tone of that press conference – surely the shape of things to come if reporters dare to do their jobs, during a dystopian SFV presidency, by investigating SFV and asking him anything other than softball questions about how great he is …

And if you take into account the marked increase in SFV’s testiness and willingness to almost gleefully mistreat the press, when they failed to roll over at his initial blasts, but instead kept after him and poked and prodded and actually, finally, FINALLY stood up to the guy …

And taking into account the openly hostile reactions that SFV has consistently elicits from his campaign-rally supporters, when he returns to his “look at the press over there, aren’t they awful?” refrain – as well as reporters’ wondering aloud if they’re placing themselves in harm’s way just by covering SFV’s rallies …

Well, it wouldn’t be a stretch to imagine a world in which “Beat the Press” was not a clever TV program title but instead a directive from the Oval Office.

The Washington Post reported that during Tuesday’s press conference,

A reporter asked if Mr. Trump’s demeanor was an indication of what White House news conferences would be like if he were elected.

‘Yes, it is,’ he said. ‘It is going to be like this.’

This week, the New York Times wrote,

With five months to go before Election Day, Mr. Trump has already said he would ‘loosen’ libel laws to make it easier to sue news organizations. He has threatened to sic federal regulators on his critics. …

‘I’m going to open up our libel laws so when they write purposely negative and horrible and false articles, we can sue them and win lots of money,’ Mr. Trump said in February. …

‘We’re going to open up those libel laws. So when The New York Times writes a hit piece which is a total disgrace or when The Washington Post, which is there for other reasons, writes a hit piece, we can sue them and win money instead of having no chance of winning because they’re totally protected.’”

One article by a columnist in the aforementioned Washington Post this week, which would fall under SFV’s description “purposely negative and horrible and false” in that it did not praise him to the high heavens, said:

…I suspect that many journalists are deciding that the way to cover Trump is just to do it as honestly and assiduously as possible, which would itself be something almost revolutionary. If the tone of his coverage up until now has been ‘Wow, is this election crazy or what!’ it could become much more serious — as it completely appropriate given that we’re choosing someone to hold the most powerful position on earth. …

[W]e’re beginning to see those corrections appear right in the body of stories: the reporter relays what Trump said, and notes immediately that it’s false.

Trump himself probably finds such treatment grossly unfair, since to him ‘unfair’ coverage is anything that doesn’t portray him in the most glowing terms. But it is perhaps ironic that after all this time of wondering how to cover this most unusual candidate, Trump has shown the press that the best way to do it is to cover him like every candidate should be covered.

That means not just planting a camera at his rallies and marveling at how nuts it all is, but doing to work to fully vet his background, correcting his lies as swiftly and surely as they can, exploring what a Trump presidency would actually mean, and generally doing their jobs without letting him intimidate them.”


May it be so.

For the sake of a free press … for the sake of a free Republic … dear Lord, may it be so.


June 4, 2016 - Posted by | celebrity, current events, Famous Persons, government, journalism, media, news, politics, television | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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