Journalism used to be about getting the truth out there, but recently we were told it shouldn’t happen if Americans could be swayed the wrong way by seeing and hearing it. Bunches of journalists themselves were upset by a live, CNN, 70-minute, New Hampshire town hall session in which a skilled, smart questioner, Kaitlan Collins, interviewed former President Donald Trump, a semi-comedic bully.
He had a great time, was full of life, good-humored, funny and occasionally likable even if he was dishonest and crude at times and inexcusably attacked a self-proclaimed sex victim. He was joyfully promoting himself as the next president while a partisan crowd laughed and cheered. Journalistically speaking, there was nothing wrong with this nationwide offering.
It’s the job of journalism, after all, to get the truth out there, and here it was, self-revelation as if in a stunningly written Broadway drama, no curtains to worry about. All kinds of journalists who obviously despise Trump were nevertheless shocked and disturbed, as if the auditorium cheerleaders were an example of a seduced TV audience and Trump’s worn-out blather had never been heard before.
I myself would bet there were people out there screaming at their TV sets and others simply taking note in a politically mixed, adult, nationwide audience without need of protection. Didn’t these journalistic detractors see Collins asking Trump tough questions and futilely challenging him to the extent of his saying, “You are a nasty person.”?
On PBS News Hour, we heard from Mark Lukasiewicz, a journalism professor and former producer of news shows of NBC and ABC. He said CNN gave Trump a platform on which to lie, practice misogyny, mislead and obfuscate while trying “to railroad the moderator.” That’s not something news outlets should allow, he said, explaining that there was a better way of proceeding, namely to have had still more tough questions with putdowns of the answers and to have taped the show and then removed all the bad Trump stuff before running the tape.
Admitting he hardly had all the answers, Lukasiewicz said he thought “journalism does have a responsibility to democracy. We exist in a liberal democracy, because of the rules and the understandings and the norms of a liberal democracy.”
Yes, we journalists are mostly here to serve democracy, meaning the people. They are sovereign and should have the opportunity to see the bald truth play itself out and make judgments they are capable of making without journalistic opinion always intervening. Fact-checking is terrific to the extent that’s what it actually is, and the media were soon filled with assessments of Trump’s lack of town hall truthfulness.
What I think is really going on here with Lukasiewicz and so many others is that they are scared to death about Trump being elected president again and think that, for all his grotesqueries, his performance could trick bunches into voting for him. They think people will buy his lies and some also hate Trump’s smile and his not being locked up.
In the first paragraph of a front-page story, The New York Times summed up the Trumpian political platform more or less pronounced in the town hall meeting, saying he “suggested the United States should default on its debts for the first time in history, injected doubt as to the country’s commitment to defending Ukraine from Russia’s invasion, dangled pardons for most of the Capitol rioters convicted of crimes, and refused to say whether he would abide by the results of the next presidential election.”
While none of that is new, it’s a pretty good look at the guy even though none of the above were absolute affirmations of his positions. It would be a disaster to default on the debt, of course, and I am for our backing Ukraine in the war, although Trump is hardly alone in wanting to stop the killing with some kind of peace agreement. The thing is, he should abide by the results of the next election even if Joe Biden beats him again. One of the most disgusting things about him is his obsession with the 2020 election not going his way and saying it was a fraud.
As for sticking Trump in an inaccessible basement somewhere, remember that Biden won in 2020 by hiding out in a basement. I don’t want Trump to be our next president any more than I want Biden, but I believe public education is to some degree lost by wrongly refashioning journalism to hide national threats instead of exposing them.
Jay Ambrose is an op-ed columnist for Tribune News Service. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.