Donald Trump is right when he says the New York Times or the Washington Post is failing. As businesses, they may not be, after all, Trump’s presidency was godsent for a struggling industry but as the torchbearers of journalism, they are.
One of the most recent prominent examples is the recently published anonymous op-ed titled I am part of the resistance inside the Trump Administration.
As a small town newspaper editor, I cannot help but disagree with the decision to publish the anonymous op-ed. Obviously, there are times when a source should be granted anonymity but this is not one of them. The op-ed itself offers nothing that a critical newsreader didn’t already know: that Trump has misguided impulses, that Trump is amoral, that there are two tracks of government (even the op-ed writer claims this is something “astute observers have noted”) and that there are people within government working against Trump. The source did not reveal any illegality or actual wrongdoing on Trump’s part. He or she is not a whistleblower. If anything, the op-ed writer is the one in the wrong here. As former President Barrack Obama put it, “That’s not how our democracy’s supposed to work.” It’s hard to believe the New York Times would have published the same anonymous op-ed had they received it under Obama.
Trump has turned coverage of the White House into a daily soap opera. He’s dangled the big juice worm of pageviews and ratings in front of the world’s most recognizable journalism organizations and they’ve willfully bitten down on the hook. Every day there’s something new and outrageous to cover, whether it’s his latest tweet, the latest rally or the latest staff member being fired. CNN President Jeff Zucker at one point said the extensive coverage of Trump’s rallies was a “mistake” but since then, nothing seems to have changed. A prime example is Omarosa Manigault Newman’s book shooting to the top of bestseller lists after plenty of “earned” advertising. The Washington Post even ran a perspective titled How Donald Trump tuned Omarosa’s ‘Unhinged’ tell-all into a bestseller. It’s doubtful it would have ever made it that far without the extensive news coverage, such as that by The Washington Post.
Ironically, the op-ed shows the power, The New York Times and journalism still have. The op-ed became the fodder for late night shows and dinner table conversations across the world. By publishing the op-ed, The New York Times set the topic of discussion for media across the world. However, in doing so they drew the spotlight away from an important, lifelong supreme court hearing or similar policy-related topics and, instead, focussed it on something that wasn’t really new information nor is likely to affect anything in the grand scale of things. If nothing else, it’s given Trump more ammunition that he needs to “drain the swamp.” If you give Trump a lot of credit (I don’t), he might have even known about the anonymous op-ed ahead of time.
Simultaneously, all of this has been extremely damaging to the credibility of journalists and has provided a security blanket for Trump. He appears to be involved in “drama” or does or says something outrageous every day and it gets reported on every day. By reporting on something outrageous and moving on to the next scandal, you’re telling readers that whatever it is that happened yesterday, it doesn’t matter anymore. When that happens often enough (as it has), readers will realize that today’s outrageous story doesn’t really matter either; tomorrow there will be something else.
Clearly, there are still plenty of journalists out there doing great work but when a president can do and say the things Trump does for years but the approval rating remains somewhat steady around 40 per cent, the so-called “fourth estate” has failed.