IMAGE CREDIT: INTERNATIONAL BUSINESS TIMES
Journalism and the American press are changing in monumental ways, and it isn’t clear that these changes or the reasons for them are widely understood. Here, I will outline what some of the changes are, I will detail what issues these changes present, and I will discuss how we as members of the press can move forward in our ethical, vigorous coverage of Trump and American politics in the years to come.
Trump and the Media
Trump has set himself up in direct opposition to the news media. He took this stance during his campaign and has not softened this position since the election. He has created this opposition in several ways.
Bypassing the press via social media—with dangerous goals
Trump’s tweets have sometimes proved to be a source of confusion or frustration for the news media; it’s not yet clear whether his tweets should be considered official policy, and members of the media are as yet unsure how they should cover tweets from the president-elect.
Incoming White House press secretary Sean Spicer says we can expect more tweets moving forward, possibly from multiple accounts. Spicer was asked on January 2, 2017 whether Trump would maintain his current Twitter account (@realDonaldTrump), or use the official account currently held by President Barack Obama (@POTUS).
“I think he’ll probably be tweeting from both, or whatever he chooses,” Spicer said.
Beyond posing a logistical and ethical issue for news media, however, Trump’s use of Twitter presents more serious problems. The PEOTUS has demonstrated a habit and preference for using Twitter to bypass the press altogether and to incite random citizens or “fans” to take action against those who oppose him—whatever form that action may take.
This use of Twitter (and, for that matter, political speech generally) is a serious issue, and one that is unprecedented in the U.S.
Take the case of Chuck Jones, President of United Steel Workers 1999. Trump chose to attack him publicly, both in a speech and using Twitter. Trump supporters responded by issuing death threats to Jones via Twitter and other media—worse threats than he had already experienced in his years as a union leader.
The case of 18-year-old Lauren Batchelder was equally shocking. Batchelder questioned Trump’s views on women in a respectful way and was attacked in return by Trump via Twitter. This led to numerous rape and death threats from Trump supporters—and those threats and other forms of harassment went on for a year. Here’s a sample she received five days before the election via Facebook, from The Washington Post: “Wishing I could f—ing punch you in the face. id then proceed to stomp your head on the curb and urinate in your bloodied mouth and i know where you live, so watch your f—ing back punk.”
According to The New York Times, as of early December Trump had insulted almost 300 targets via Twitter since his campaign started—and of course this leaves out, for example, the entire nation of China in his recent online gaffe.
There can be no doubt that Trump is aware of the powerful effect his tweets have on individual American citizens. He knows he has the ability to whip his supporters into a potentially violent fervor and has acknowledged that fact. At a February 2016 rally he watched a protester being escorted out by guards and remarked: “Oh, I love the old days, you know? You know what I hate? There’s a guy, totally disruptive, throwing punches, we’re not allowed to punch back anymore. I love the old days, you know what they used to do to guys like that when they were in a place like this? They’d be carried out in a stretcher, folks. Oh, it’s true.” He then went on to complain that “the guards are very gentle with him,” before saying, “I’d like to punch him in the face, I’ll tell you.”
However, Politico reported that security at that event said the protestor was not in fact violent. This was not the only time Trump incited violence; in fact, soon after Black Lives Matter protesters appeared at a Bernie Sanders rally in August of 2015, Trump stated at a press conference that if BLM activists interrupted one of his events, he would have them beaten. “That will never happen with me,” he said. “I don’t know if I’ll do the fighting or if other people will.”
Therefore, it seems obvious that one reason Trump may prefer to address his followers directly via social media is that he enjoys his ability to incite followers to take action against private citizens. Without any members of the press engaging in measured dialogue, he can simply issue statements unchecked and get the results he is after.
If Twitter is the medium, journalists can’t question Trump in real time. If they try to do that, he can ignore them, maintain complete control of the message, and encourage trolls to flame them. Although it is decidedly different than the existing presidential social media presence, we can expect the White House’s Twitter account to closely resemble Trump’s Twitter account.
This brings up the final point: Tweeting as a private citizen, or even as a celebrity, is far different than tweeting as the leader of a nation. The latter carries with it serious diplomatic consequences.
James Woolsey, former director of the CIA, remarked in an appearance on ABC’s This Week this past December that he is baffled by Trump’s brand of Twitter diplomacy: “I can’t keep up with the tweets.” This was after Trump offended China with an unprecedented call to Taiwan, and then complained about their response on Twitter; it’s hard to see China’s seizure of an unmanned US naval drone in the South China Sea only days later as an unrelated act.
How did Trump deal with this crisis? By taking to Twitter once again, of course—and without any counsel from national security advisors, the Secretary of State, or anyone from the current president’s administration. “China steals United States Navy research drone in international waters, rips it out of water and takes it to China in unpresidented [sic] act.” China agreed to return the drone, which prompted this tweet from Trump: “We should tell China that we don’t want the drone they stole back – let them keep it!”
Trump’s outbursts have certainly worsened and extended, if not entirely caused, one of the most serious diplomatic debacles between the US and China in years. He has once again exposed his naivete and ignorance on matters of foreign policy. Most damaging, though, is the issue with China which will now be his to deal with—and ours.
During Trump’s campaign and since the election Trump has expressed various ideas about the press and our role interacting with him and his administration, and in greater American society. Most of them are radical, and some are dangerous.
What are the implications of these ideas? Where have ideas like these taken root, and what were the results?
Eliminating the White House press corps
The Trump team and Trump himself have suggested that major changes to the White House press corps are coming. Specifically, the changes have included eliminating the White House daily press briefing and the president’s weekly address, and moving the White House press corps out of the White House.
All of these proposed changes will be made with two main goals in mind. Trump and his administration are working overtime to create a compliant press that reports what they’re told and heaps praise on cue. His love for Brietbart, the white supremacist darling of the “alt-right” echo chamber, betrays this goal very clearly.
Social scientists confirmed in June of 2016 that “echo chambers” fueled by political ideology do exist on Facebook, and many journalists have speculated that these kinds of echo chambers could be causing a greater political divide in our already divided nation. However, compared to the damage a nationally-sanctioned, official White House echo chamber could do, these Facebook friend circles pale in comparison.
Trump’s plan thus far has been to avoid the press and refuse to engage and answer questions—except on his own terms. If access to the White House is restricted, Trump will effectively be forcing the news media to barter for access, and all we have to trade with is our objective coverage and ability to report without limits. This is nothing less than a move towards state-run media and a stiff turn away from a free press.
The second goal behind these possible changes is simply to limit the information that the White House disseminates to the public. The White House has traditionally relied upon the press to get information to the public, and even today not every citizen uses social media or other sources of news. However, the goal of this administration will not be to inform the public, if we can base anything at all on everything we have seen so far. The elimination of the White House press corps would confirm this fact.
The ten countries that have been rated “Most Censored” in the world by the Committee to Protect Journalists include Belarus, Burma, Cuba, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Libya, North Korea, Syria, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan. These countries span multiple continents and hold different cultural beliefs. However, these countries all share three things: heavy state control over the media, forced positive news coverage, and zero tolerance for negative news coverage.
If we intend to avoid censorship, maintain our right to free speech, and keep our press at all meaningful, we must immediately recognize just how dangerous these proposed changes really are.
Journalists threatened with legal action for reporting
Perhaps even more insidious is the actual threats that Trump and his administration picks have levied against members of the press. Conservative prosecutors have already begun to follow this dangerous trend.
In North Dakota journalist Amy Goodman covered the pipeline protestors over Labor Day weekend. For her efforts, prosecutors threatened her with jail time and a criminal fine in a shocking overreach. Goodman correctly called this laying of criminal charges for her reporting on the public protest against the pipeline project a warning to other journalists: “Do not come to North Dakota.”
The charges were finally thrown out by a state judge in October.
This might be seen as an isolated case, if it weren’t for the fact that PEOTUS Trump has himself repeatedly threatened not only to sue members of the press for investigating his finances, but also to change the libel laws to punish them. Many members of the press see this as a direct threat to the free press and our Constitution.
“Mr. Trump, especially given the positions he’s staked out … would represent a really significant threat to the tradition of an independent free press in the United States,” said David Barstow of The New York Times. He explained his shock at seeing the letter Trump wrote to TNYT: “he’s taking a position that unless he, Donald Trump, personally blesses The New York Times writing a story about his income tax returns, we’re committing a crime, we’re violating the law.”
“I think Donald Trump represents a clear and present danger to the liberties of the people, to the idea of the First Amendment,” agreed David Cay Johnston of The Daily Beast. “He called me at home on April 27th to threaten to sue me. Some of the freelance articles that I have written were lawyered way beyond all reason, out of fear. And I’ve had two news organizations say, ‘We can’t report that, because we’re afraid that Donald Trump will sue us.’ This is an extraordinary thing for a politician to do.”
All of these exchanges took place before Trump won the election. Now he will move forward in his vendetta against members of the press with the full weight of federal law enforcement behind him.
Media and ownership
How hamstrung are journalists given that so much of the mainstream media is in fact owned by large business interests in what is now a very unstable atmosphere? Careful analysis seems to indicate that journalism is seriously vulnerable.
There is no question that Trump, despite his avowed dislike of the news media’s constant coverage, has benefitted greatly from what is, unfortunately, a symbiotic relationship. For each attack Trump makes on the press, their ratings climb. Cable news organizations were projected to make a record-busting $2.5 billion from the 2016 election season.
A newsworthiness study found that Trump got more nightly network news coverage in 2015 than the entire Democratic party: 327 minutes of coverage, while Hillary Clinton received 121 minutes and Bernie Sanders received 20 minutes. Even during the primaries, Trump received almost $2 billion in free publicity thanks to media coverage, according to The New York Times.
This is no surprise to anyone in the industry, and it probably isn’t novel to anyone on the street. “If it bleeds, it leads” is part and parcel of our highly commercialized news media system. If there’s one thing that the news media and Trump will always have in common, it’s a desire for better ratings and a ruthless motivation to get them and the profit that follows them.
This eye on the bottom line and the underlying economic relationship between the American news media and Trump was summarized by Les Moonves, CEO of CBS, as he discussed Trump’s candidacy: “It may not be good for America, but it’s damn good for CBS.”
While we think of the American press as epitomizing freedom of speech, compared to the media systems of other countries, ours is structurally troubled, highly commercialized, and weakly-supported. The differences between our media system and those in other countries which are notably more robust are far more than cultural nuances or differences in taste or style.
Our news media system is highly commercialized in part because commercial interests have often won out throughout our history as a nation. This meant a reliance on advertising which has become ingrained in our culture. In fact, through the early 20th century, advertising was responsible for about 80 percent of all revenue supporting American journalism. This is unfortunate, not least because research proves that poor political knowledge and a commercialized media go hand in hand.
As radio became the important new source of media and news, an oligopoly of large networks formed and dominated the airwaves by the mid-1940s. Three of them are still here: NBC, CBS, and ABC. During the Great Depression the FCC took more control away from corporate sponsors and forced broadcasters to fulfill their responsibilities to the public. However, in the more prosperous times that followed, the media again moved towards increased commercialism.
This trend was enhanced during the McCarthy years when Cold War fears and anxiety about communism made any sign of regulation appear to be a red flag. Thus the foundation for corporate freedom was set. While progressive content regulation came with the social movements of the 1960s and 1970s, the Reagan 1980s saw a deregulation backlash, some of which has persisted.
Today we are left with Clear Channel, for example, which owns more than 1,200 radio stations nationwide; this single company limits what can be heard and said on the public airwaves. In fact, as of 2012 only 6 companies controlled more than 90 percent of the American media, in contrast to the 50 companies that owned the same share in the 1980s. Today, according to Forbes, most of America’s news media is owned by 15 billionaires.
This may seem innocuous if you believe that these billionaires are very different from a state-controlled media. However, given the incoming administration’s cabinet of billionaires and millionaires, it would be foolish to fail to examine the idea of oligopoly and how such a narrow range of control over our media must necessarily be having some impact on what we all see, hear, and read.
Is there an alternative to this feedback cycle, the “Trumpification” of the media? Of course, and more than one.
We see strong public media systems operate with great success in other countries. As the divide between commercialism and public service in journalism disappears in the age of “fake news” and clickbait, a stronger public media system feels appealing—particularly as net neutrality also looms ailing on the horizon, almost surely to die under Trump. Think PBS with greatly expanded subsidies which could come from merger conditions, spectrum sales, or other revenues.
Nonprofit news models are another alternative that could help more public-service journalism flourish even under what are going to be unfriendly conditions. Public libraries could also function as local media centers, strengthening local news production. Finally, crowdsourced support for smaller, independent media outlets is surging this election season, perhaps as more citizens recognize the need for public-service journalism.
Of course none of these efforts can be totally effective without some action against media oligopolies, which is unlikely to be forthcoming during the Trump years. Nevertheless, we can and should make this one of our goals as members of the press in recognition of the impossibility of doing our job properly without such reform.
Hard questions for the press
Why won’t so many members of the press really ask questions, follow up, investigate, and report on Trump? Why won’t they confront him when he lies? And why does this failure extend to proposed members of his cabinet and his advisors?
In “Interviewing in the age of Trump,” Jennifer Rubin details the Fox News interview of Senator Tom Cotton, carefully providing follow up questions that clearly should have been asked of the Senator. For example, when interviewer Shannon Bream asks about Trump’s response (or lack thereof) to the Russian hacking report, “Do you think he needs to take a harder line when presented with the hard evidence that was outlined in this report?” Senator Cotton fails to answer and pivots to talk about the DNC.
Rubin writes the follow up that clearly should have been asked immediately: “You didn’t answer my question. Do you think Trump needs to take a harder line? Aren’t you concerned he won’t even admit Russia was behind the hacking?” Rubin goes on to highlight a response by Cotton that is “chock-full of misinformation and evasion,” and provide a detailed series of questions that should have been asked.
The entire piece is, of course, accurate and points out a critical problem: why aren’t more members of the press asking these simple, obvious questions that so clearly need to be asked? Just as critical a question is this: why are we so often afraid to point out Trump’s many, many lies and call them what they are? Are we suddenly concerned about appearing rude? Or is there something else going on here?
Greg Sargent broaches this issue in “Yes, Trump ‘lies.’ A lot. And news organizations should say so.” This piece comes just as Gerard Baker, editor-in-chief of The Wall Street Journal, has taken what can only be described as an odd position on Trump’s dishonesty and the appropriate response from members of the press to that dishonesty:
“I’d be careful about using the word, ‘lie.’ ‘Lie’ implies much more than just saying something that’s false. It implies a deliberate intent to mislead. … when Trump says thousands of people were on the rooftops of New Jersey on 9/11 celebrating, thousands of Muslims were there celebrating, I think it’s right to investigate that claim, to report what we found, which is that nobody found any evidence of that whatsoever, and to say that.
I think it’s then up to the reader to make up their own mind to say, ‘This is what Trump says. This is what a reliable, trustworthy news organization reports. And you know what? I don’t think that’s true.’ I think if you start ascribing a moral intent, as it were, to someone by saying that they’ve lied, I think you run the risk that you look like you are, like you’re not being objective.”
Baker’s position is disturbing. First, Trump didn’t make a casual, off-the-cuff claim about Muslims cheering on 9/11 and later backpedal or avoid the question. He repeatedly crowed about this alleged sighting, making this bigoted point a central part of his campaign, which was itself fueled in part by anti-Muslim sentiment. Then, when confronted by the facts, which had been rigorously checked by multiple organizations, he screamed the same assertion even louder, refusing to acknowledge those facts.
That is lying, pure and simple. There is no danger of being unfair here by calling that behavior what it is.
Baker’s idea seems to imply that members of the press must prove that Trump has an intent to lie before we call anything that he says a lie. This is not a standard of journalism. In fact, to do our jobs as journalists we are obligated to call out falsehoods each time we see them without regard to who is screaming them or how loud that person may be screaming.
The Atlantic‘s James Fallows agrees with Sargent: “Call out lies as lies, not ‘controversies.’ In covering Trump’s latest illegal-voting outburst, The Washington Post and the LA Times took the lead in clearly labeling the claim as false, rather than ‘controversial’ or ‘unsubstantiated.’ … By contrast, the version I’ve seen from the NYT takes a more ‘objective’ tone — there’s ‘no evidence’ for Trump’s claim, much as there was ‘no evidence’ for his assertion that Ted Cruz’s dad played a part in the JFK assassination. What’s the difference?… The Times’s is more conventional — but it is also ‘normalizing’ in suggesting that Trump actually cared whether there was evidence for what he said. I think the Post’s [approach] is closer to calling things what they are.”
Baker is still residing in the old world of journalism—the pre-Trump days. Those were times when journalists aimed to cover each important untruth from each candidate, knowing that it would all even out in the end. This isn’t the case anymore, because in the 2016 election Trump was responsible for many, many more untruths than every other candidate.
On July 1, 2016, PolitiFact issued a report that illustrates the major difference between the Trump era and the pre-Trump era. The group checked 158 Trump claims, and 95 were rated either “False” or “Pants on Fire” (which is incredibly false). That’s 60 percent, and that number topped out later in the year at over 70 percent. However, even in July, if you added in “Mostly False” statements, Trump was already up to 78 percent. Trump had more “Pants on Fire” claims, 30, than all 21 other candidates put together. Ben Carson took second place, with four.
There is simply no comparison to be made between the 2016 candidates when it comes to honesty: Trump has taken dishonesty and made it his policy and his constant way of communicating with others. While it would certainly be more comfortable in many ways for members of the press to keep to the norms of the past, trying to put equal pressure on Trump and others he faces off with, it is simply impractical and, in the end, dishonest. We render ourselves ineffective and fail to reveal the truth when we fail to reveal falsehoods for what they are based on an antiquated gentlemen’s agreement concerning what the press should be doing.
Case study: reporting on the Trump Foundation’s money
David Fahrenthold has been reporting on the Trump Foundation’s finances, and in some cases reporting on his inability to do so, since February 2016. He published his saga on his adventures in Trumpland at the end of December, for posterity in some sense, since the search for truth was not over.
Fahrenthold heard Trump say in February that he had raised more than $6 million for veterans that very night, including a personal donation of $1 million. However, he soon noticed that he had only given away only about $1.1 million to the veterans’ groups. He set out to do a simple thing: confirm where the rest of the money went.
Fahrenthold attempted to contact the Trump campaign, with no reply. His idea was that either Trump broke the law by mingling funds from his foundation with campaign funds, or that Trump was sitting on the money. After doing some preliminary investigating in the form of talking with tax experts, then-campaign manager Corey Lewandowski finally called him to tell him that the money was all spent.
In an attempt to verify this claim, Fahrenthold took to Twitter—Trump’s favorite safe space for trolling. He included @realDonaldTrump in his inquiries to veterans’ groups, hoping for more insight. Trump called Fahrenthold the next night to say he gave the money to his friend’s non-profit; in other words, his campaign manager lied. When Fahrenthold asked Trump if he would have donated it if he (Fahrenthold) hadn’t asked about it, Trump responded by calling him “a really nasty guy.”
This was just the beginning of the saga. The investigation uncovered the purchase of the two portraits of Trump with foundation funds, the lies about charitable donations, and led to the Access Hollywood bus, among other revelations.
It was fantastic reporting, the kind we all need to aspire to as these years unfold—and yet, here we are.
The challenge moving forward
On New Year’s Eve, John Avlon of The Daily Beast called this our Murrow Moment. By “us” he means the news media, but also all citizens. We must all respond to the “civic stress test” we are about to undergo with our very best efforts if we want to come out on top.
Avlon describes the trials of Edward R. Murrow, hero of the McCarthy years—but only in retrospect. At the time, Murrow was unpopular, doing a lonely job for an often ungrateful public. He describes our country as beset by situational ethics and a willful ignorance, both poor bases for self-government. His ultimate point: that in this, our Murrow moment, we must be patriots rather than partisan actors.
How can we meet these challenges as members of the press—how can we report fairly without ever normalizing the racism, sexism, religious bigotry, and attacks on free speech that seem to emanate from this new administration?
Adopt and maintain strategies that work
In August 2016 The Washington Post published a biography of Donald Trump, based in part on more than 20 hours of interviews. The Post also published the repository of the raw materials from the project comprised of 407 documents, including court filings, immigration records, interview transcripts, financial reports, and other source material. The archive is searchable and was intended to be a resource for other journalists and readers.
Within hours of the posting of the archive, journalists were discovering facts that were new to them and reporting them to the public. This level of journalistic transparency is a critical strategy moving forward, and ideally it will be replicated by other outlets.
Robust fact checking is also going to be an essential strategy as we move forward together. Although there were many notable fact checking failures in 2016—such as Matt Lauer’s epic fail during the September candidate forum—the nonpartisan fact checking industry has been busy, and more and more citizens are using it.
This is fantastic, and it should continue. However, there should never be a situation in which viewers are forced to do their own fact checking based on the neglect of those reporting or moderating the news. Fact checking and source verification can be a hassle, especially if you’re working for peanuts and cranking out online stories—but there is no excuse for skipping it, and this has to be the only acceptable standard for news outlets. (Incidentally, the more we do open source our archives like The Post did, the easier this will become for everyone.)
There’s no question that the Trump years will keep fact checkers busy. PolitiFact found at least 70 percent of Trump’s campaign statements to be mostly or completely false. FactCheck also parsed the infamous Matt Lauer forum and the results are here. In October 2016, fact checker and journalist Daniel Dale described his daily #TrumpCheck, a tally of falsehoods told by Trump each day, which had never dipped below four at the time the article was written and had climbed as high as 34 on debate days. Dale calls Trump’s persistent lying an “avalanche of wrongness,” which seems apropos.
Cover Trump ethically, rigorously, and fearlessly
Many journalists have provided primers for how we should proceed in the Trump era. These are the primers that are most relevant from my perspective.
Maureen Sullivan advises us to realize that journalism has to change, and that instead of hoarding information and coveting the next scoop, we should opt for accountability over access. She also reminds us to give each piece of Trump news an appropriate amount of coverage; to illustrate this point she compares the way that Trump’s feud with the cast of Hamilton should receive far less attention than his appointment of the racist Jeff Sessions as Attorney General.
Sullivan goes on to advise members of the press to develop thicker skin, and skip preaching to the choir. We may need to take less comfortable positions as we try to bridge gaps within our populace. She urges journalists to stay driven by the mission, but drop the smugness that has poisoned the profession in the eyes of many.
In “Autocracy: Rules for Survival,” Masha Gessen, a Russian-American journalist who lived under Putin’s rule, outlines the ways we can survive the Trump era. The first rule: believe the autocrat when he shows you who he is.
Trump has provided ample evidence of his character—decades of it, actually. We already know that we are dealing with a bigot, a serial tax avoider, a chronic liar, and someone who degrades women. It is our job as journalists not to cover Trump like our predecessors covered Hitler, saying the latter’s anti-Semitism was all political posturing. We already know that he uses social media and political speeches to “sic” his followers on those he disagrees with, and now he will have police power on his side. Believe what you know and see, even if it is disturbing.
The next rules are to not be fooled by small signs of normality, and to realize that institutions will not save you. Also, as journalists, we must not be part of normalization, nor can we make up an institution making false promises of safety. It is our job to ensure that none of these bizarre events seem normal, and to reveal danger when we see it.
The remaining rules? Be outraged and do not compromise. Finally, remember the future. It may be up to the news media to remind the public about the future, about why we need to fight to maintain our legal system and the freedom of the press. That’s something we can’t afford to botch.
Jared Malsin, Time’s Middle East bureau chief, has reported in places where freedom of the press is far from a given: Egypt and Turkey. Malsin advises us to see other members of the press as a family, an extended support network who can learn from and teach each other. “You draw strength from your colleagues, who become like family. In Egypt, I took inspiration from the many Egyptian journalists who staked far more than me to document their country’s free fall from revolution to repression. . . .They will take those risks, even after foreign correspondents leave. They soldier on, knowing they risk prison for their reporting.. . . You stand in awe of them.”
Dana Priest of the Columbia Journalism Review advises all members of the press to take certain steps before Trump is sworn into office: rebuild sources, join forces with other members of the press, make outside partnerships, investigate the First Family, keep looking for Trump tax documents, out fake news sites, and help to create a war chest via the ACLU or the Reporters’ Committee for Freedom of the Press for when the inevitable repression happens.
Jack Shafer of Politico offers a list of rules for covering Trump. First, don’t bother engaging with him on Twitter. Second, “Starve the troll”; by this Shafer means to focus not on diversionary tweets that are false, but to point out that he tweeted a falsehood in an apparent attempt to distract the press from the real story, whatever it is, thereby covering both.
Third, starve the troll part two: don’t fact check every little thing, but only things that matter. Fourth, Shafer directs us to crack Trump’s psyops code, meaning get at the why and how of what he says, going beyond the what of his statements. This is admittedly a bit abstract, but something that will be interesting to see develop over time.
Fifth, report aggressively, and not necessarily from the White House. Shafer argues that we are likely to see many leaks springing inside the more entrenched bureaucracies of institutions like the Pentagon and the courts, and that we’ll need to make use of them. Finally, the sixth and seventh rules: stop blaming ourselves as journalists for Trump, and remember that there’s no magic bullet for getting reporting this mess right.
Finally, just as we need to cover Trump himself ethically, rigorously, and fearlessly, we need to cover all forms of bigotry in Trump’s America ethically, rigorously, and fearlessly. Just as we need to call a lie a lie, we need to reject the milquetoast term “alt-right” in favor of neo-Nazi, white nationalist, and other terms which more accurately describe what we’re reporting.
We need to reject a post-truth reality, and stubbornly insist that there are actual facts existing out in the world to be discovered, checked, and reported on. Why this point has been so readily conceded by so many is an interesting philosophical question, but not our concern for today. It may make us unpopular to insist on the existence of facts, but that’s what it’s time to do.