Editors and reporters must offer readers the facts about Donald Trump no matter how hard he and his increasingly angry mob of fans push back.
As an industry we must tell the public not just why Trump should never be U.S. president, but why he shouldn’t be president because of what he did today, and every day.
There has not been one single day, not one press conference, not one rally where Trump hasn’t blustered through a litany of things ranging from inept to frightening and dangerous.
If this is just my opinion, it’s also the expressed opinion of Republicans, his allies, pundits and experts from the left and the right, and a growing number of conservatives who once thought they could quietly tolerate his candidacy.
The media is under extreme pressure from both Trump’s knowing and naive followers to treat the New York hotel magnate and his campaign just like any other. Daily, we are bombarded by fanatical and unreasonable critics saying our overly moderated yet pointed and regular coverage of the outlandish, menacing and treacherous things Trump says only proves to them how unfair the media is to him.
I learned journalism from masters. They were serious thinkers who not only studied our ethical, legal and integral role in democracy, but who practiced what they loudly and regularly preached. Former Rocky Mountain News copy desk chief Greg Pearson — as dean and creator of Metro State University of Denver’s unique journalism school — howled this mantra almost every day I saw him for years: “Accuracy. Accuracy. Accuracy,” he bellowed at every tiny mistake he uncovered.
Every day, I, and most journalists, ask the same questions every time we file a story, a brief, a headline, a photo or a caption: Is it accurate? Is it fair? Is it written for the reader and not the source? Above all, is this the real story?
Most of us learn enough about journalism to understand the rudimentary rule of the profession: he said, she said. Supposedly, objective and fair reporters let each side tell their own story, stand back, and then the reader decides who’s right.
But allowing Donald Trump to make comments without context and background make the story inaccurate.
“(Russian President Vladimir Putin is) not going into Ukraine, OK, just so you understand. He’s not going to go into Ukraine, all right? You can mark it down. You can put it down. You can take it anywhere you want,” Trump said Sunday during an interview George Stephanopoulos on ABC’s “This Week.”
It’s not Trump’s opinion. It’s erroneous. Putin’s grab of the Crimea is already a historical scandal and acknowledged threat to world peace. Likewise, it’s not an opinion that President Barack Obama was born in Kenya — it’s false. It’s untrue that Obama is a Muslim. It’s untrue that “global warming” is a hoax. The China trade deficit this year isn’t $505 billion, it’s closer to $340 billion. Ten percent of American bridges are deficient, but 61 percent are not on the verge of collapse. He said ISIS built a hotel in Syria. No. They commandeered one. He said that in the event Iran goes to war with Israel, the United States must side with Iran because of the Iran Anti-Nuclear Agreement. Absolutely not.
Despite what his followers say, these aren’t opinions that the media should obligingly permit Trump to espouse in the same vein that “Obama is the worst president ever,” or “Ted Cruz is the biggest liar ever.” He is a walking, talking fountain of misinformation and disinformation, and if the media — especially the wildly tilted Fox News brand — doesn’t point that out, his naive fan club simply takes his froth at face value. Despite what he says, there aren’t two sets of facts — and he’s regularly on the wrong side of them.
And when the media does point out his inaccuracies, which are usually so glaring to have captured media attention, his fans rabidly accuse the press of bias, and in some sort of conditioned response, rattle off their complaints about Hillary Clinton.
First, the media rightfully treats the accuracy and problems of each candidate separately. But more important, the contest, in the eyes of Trump supporters, is one of weighing who is the most egregious candidate based on the level of shrillness created by critics.
I’ll bite. Hillary has plenty of faults, but as a person, as a politician, as a candidate, her missteps and shortcomings pale compare the off-the-charts horror that Trump parades every single day. And the media has erred in not making that clear, despite what his unaware or complicit fan club says.
It’s like the media reporting on the sinking of the Titanic with Trump at the helm and his supporters pointing out that the dinner served on Hillary’s ship was cold.
Clinton’s shortcomings are real, but they’re irrelevant to Trump’s. For voters, weighing one brand against the other is expected, but when Trump says 81 percent of murdered white people are killed by blacks, and he cites the crime statistics bureau of San Francisco, which doesn’t exist, the press has a duty to point out that 85 percent of murdered whites were killed by other white people.
Trump is a geyser of mistakes, hyperbole, bloopers, gaffes, howlers and outright lies, and the media is irresponsible in not being more forthright about immediately debunking what he says, essentially as he says it.
Trump is not just another flavor of political candidate, he is an unparalleled threat to America and the world that cannot be exaggerated. So the least the media can do is stick to the canons of our profession and ensure readers are offered the facts.
Follow @EditorDavePerry on Twitter and Facebook or reach him at 303-750-7555 or [email protected]