Making journalism great again

5/22/2017

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One thing President Trump has succeeded at making great again: Journalism.

Recognizing that the White House Press Corps is not getting information it can trust from White House spokesmen — since the President will contradict his spokesmen an hour later and even warns the media that his people can’t keep up with him so don’t presume they even know the truth– the reporters are becoming more enterprising. And their colleagues not on the beat are becoming even more focused on keeping our elected officials honest.

This is a great thing, and I thank you, Mr. President, for bringing alive again a newspaper industry that has been struggling more and more as the Internet grows.

Print journalism, or its digitized progeny, is as good as it’s ever been. The last week alone has seen journalism on steroids. And it’s not only about the missteps, lies, tweets and childishness so often demonstrated by the President.

It’s the enterprising journalists digging and finding stories. It’s the Washington Post’s David Fahrenthold winning a Pulitzer Prize for his investigations of Trump’s boasts about his generosity and exposing his non-existent charity donations; it’s the throwback competition between the Post and The New York Times who daily are scooping each other, highlighted the other day when the two newspapers’ produced a one-two punch within minutes — one going public with its scoop on Trump bragging to the Russians in the Oval Office about his firing FBI Director Comey and the other reporting that the current FBI investigation has a “person of interest” close to Trump and on his White House staff.

I’ve been a fan of newspapers since I was a kid and spent more than 10 years of my career as a journalist and the rest of it interacting with journalists. I read papers daily, and start each morning with coffee, a bagel and the Post and the Times. I start reading between 6 and 7a.m. and it takes an hour most days to read the just the front section of the Post and 2–3 hours to read both papers. But that time suck is just since Trump took office. Previously, I spent about an hour, total, on both papers.

I, like many others, are obsessed with this presidency and read just about every word they publish.

But we must thank President Trump for making newspapers great again, if nothing else yet. Rather than pout about the stories, he should engage and, if the stories are wrong, show us why they’re wrong not just fall back on the easy “fake news” line that so many of his followers seem to accept. He belittles the story and diminishes the importance of a free press not just to we citizens but as an example to other countries of what makes our culture different.

And if there’s no there there when it comes to alleged collusion between his campaign and the Russians, he should welcome the special counsel, forget about it and get on with the job he was elected to do. If his campaign is innocent, that’s what the special counsel will find.

He should never have threatened to open up the libel laws and make it easier for him to sue the media — if he ever intended to do it — because that didn’t bully editors as I’m sure he intended but rather got their backs up. But it also began to settle the media back into its time-honored roll of keeping our elected officials honest. A good thing for us all.

We cannot survive as a country or a democracy without a free media — even if that comes with some downsides. Reporters aren’t always correct, but the good ones want to be and if they are wrong, they want to be shown where they are wrong. And, it will be corrected.

As Carl Bernstein, who won a Pulitzer Prize for his Watergate reporting with partner Bob Woodward, says, journalism is the best available version of the truth.

Mainstream reporters are not making stories up. They check, double check and check again their information and that’s before their editors engage for their review. Right and left-wing media not so much. They just want an angle that fits their “narrative” so a bit of truth will do.

But I trust the Washington Post, New York Times and their brothers and sisters in the mainstream media to be right more than wrong. I’ll take the few errors if that means getting more of the truth than the government is willing to give us.

President Trump, rather than berating and belittling the media, should be welcoming the scrutiny if he’s done nothing wrong.

You, Mr. President, can prove them wrong by doing the job you promised to do — creating new jobs, righting the wrongs of trade agreements and ridding the world of terrorists, among other things.

You do that, Mr. President, and the voters will reward you. You do not need to “win” every news cycle — you need to lead the country to a better place.

Former deputy White House press secretary (Reagan and Bush 41) and former head of communications at Republican Natl Committee. My blog: bjaycooper.com.

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