Nothing flatters an independent journalist less than the sight of him forming a line to drink from the same fountain as his colleagues. Such a spectacle will unfold on Thursday, August 16, as 200 or more editorial pages will heed the call sounded by Boston Globe op-ed page editor Marjorie Pritchard to run editorials opposing President Donald Trump’s unrelieved press-bashing. Participating dailies include the Houston Chronicle, the Minneapolis Star Tribune, Miami Herald, the Denver Post, as well as the Globe. Joining the movement are the American Society of News Editor and the New England Newspaper and Press Association. Dan Rather is on board as is the Radio Television Digital News Association.
“Our words will differ. But at least we can agree that such attacks are alarming,” Pritchard’s appeal declared.
It goes without saying that press bashing, Trump-style, is alarming. His critiques rarely point to genuine inaccuracies in the press. Instead, his method is to dismiss any news that impedes his agenda or disparages him as fake and dishonest. With demagogic bluster, he routinely deploys “enemies of the people” rhetoric against journalists, which some say has inspired physical threats against journalists. Early this month, he tweetedthat reporters are “dangerous & sick” and accused them of causing war (!) and purposely causing “great division & distrust.” Early in his presidency, Trump said, “I’ve never seen more dishonest media than, frankly, the political media.”
Most journalists agree that there’s a great need for Trump rebuttals. I’ve written my share. But this Globe-sponsored coordinated editorial response is sure to backfire: It will provide Trump with the circumstantial evidence of the existence of a national press cabal that has been convened solely to opposes him. When the editorials roll off the press on Thursday, all singing from the same script, Trump will reap enough fresh material to whale on the media for at least a month. His forthcoming speeches almost write themselves: By colluding against me, the fake media proved once and for all, that they are in cahoots with the Democrats and have declared themselves to be my true political opposition …
Trump and many in his base — tend not to read newspapers in the first place.
The Globe’s anti-Trump project is also an exercise in redundancy, not to mention self-stroking. Most newspapers have already published a multitude of editorials and columns rebuking the president for his trash-talking of the press. Most major editorial boards opposed Trump’s candidacy, according to this tally by Business Insider. The largest of the 19 newspapers to endorse Trump was the Las Vegas Review-Journal, owned by one of his faithful donors, Sheldon Adelson. More than 240 endorsed Hillary Clinton. Editorial-page sentiment against Trump remains largely unchanged since the election, making the call for a collective reprimand all the more pointless.
Another problem with a nationally coordinated pro-press catechism is that the audience likely to reap the greatest benefit from the haranguing — Trump and many in his base — tend not to read newspapers in the first place. While there’s always value in preaching to the choir — that’s why churches hold services every Sunday — the combined weight of 200 pro-press editorials is not likely to move the opinion needle or deter Trump from defaming and threatening reporters.
Most newspaper editorials are already a watered-down product of groupthink. It’s unlikely that expanding the size of the group and encouraging everybody to bake and serve a tuna-fish casserole on the same day will produce editorials that are more interesting and persuasive than the normal fare.
But maybe I’m wrong. If a single day of pro-press editorials is a good idea for a collective assignment, then maybe newspapers should set aside next Saturday for 200 editorials on tariffs and next Sunday for 200 editorials on global warming and next Monday for 200 editorials on Afghanistan. Surely these issues are as compelling and urgent as press freedom.
For all its faults, the American press refuses the commands from critics who would have it operate like some monolithic entity. Almost daily, our best newspapers express their independence by rejecting the marching orders issued by corporations, politicians and governments. Editorial pages of America, don’t unite! Think for yourselves! Reject this stupid pro-press assignment!
Send collective assignments to [email protected] I will ignore them. My email alerts endorsed George Papoon for president in 2016. My Twitter feed wrote in Alfred E. Neuman. My RSS feed voted for whatever knucklehead the Libertarian Party put up.