Lesley Stahl of 60 Minutes recently talked about her November 2016 interview with Don Trump — his first after winning the election. She asked him if he planned to stop attacking the press, something he did repeatedly during his campaign.
“He said, ‘You know why I do it? I do it to discredit you all and demean you all, so when you write negative stories about me, no one will believe you,’” Stahl said.
America’s “free press” is in peril. The industry has been reeling from digital disruption for many years, and for the past two years, journalists and their employers have had to fend off attacks on their legitimacy from the President of the United States.
It needs to be noted that the attacks from the fringe right are not merely rhetorical. The nut who gunned down five people at a Maryland newspaper sent three letters on the day of the attack, including one that said he was on his way to the Capital Gazette newsroom with the aim “of killing every person present.”
The Boston Globe sent out a call for newspapers around the nation to publish editorials today that defend the First Amendment and the industry. Hundreds of papers responded to the request, and today The New York Times is sharing the editorials (including their own) on one easy-to-navigate webpage.
“Public discussion is a political duty,” the Supreme Court said in 1964. That discussion must be “uninhibited, robust, and wide-open,” and “may well include vehement, caustic and sometimes unpleasantly sharp attacks on government and public officials.” https://t.co/aMHqCNL0vc
— David Burn (@davidburn) August 16, 2018
The Times is also asking readers to pay. “If you haven’t already, please subscribe to your local papers.”
News Deserts Are Democracy’s Death Traps
A. J. Liebling once wrote, “A city with one newspaper, or with a morning and an evening paper under one ownership, is like a man with one eye, and often the eye is glass.”
The legendary journalist wouldn’t recognize the newspaper business today. Estimated U.S. daily newspaper circulation, print and digital combined, fell 11 percent to 31 million in 2017, according to the Pew Research Center. As recently as 2000, weekday subscriptions totaled 55.8 million.
Just 31 million Americans subscribe to a newspaper today and the economic impact of this is hitting newsrooms hard. In 2005, there were 66,490 newspaper reporters or editors. In 2015, there were 41,400, a decline of 25,090 journalists, or 38 percent. The losses continue to come fast and furious, as former journalists at The New York Post, Denver Post, Baltimore Sun, etc., can attest.
Bias Is Not Bad
According to a new Gallup poll, U.S. adults estimate that 62% of the news they read in newspapers, see on television or hear on the radio is biased. Among Republicans, nearly 9 in 10 disapprove of the media’s coverage, and three in four Republicans believe Trump over the press.
In other words, the actual news from real journalists doesn’t reinforce the audience’s beliefs. Facts are like that—they get in the way of ill-conceived beliefs. Which is why I appreciate The Boston Globe’s reminder that bias is built-in, and that it’s perfectly normal.
“The nation’s Founding Fathers took for granted that the press would be biased and yet they still explicitly enshrined the freedom of journalists and publishers in the Constitution.”