Op Ed

In Defense Of The Press

President declares war on the media. But we’ll get a straighter story from them.

By - Jan 25th, 2017 11:02 am
Donald Trump. Photo from whitehouse.gov.

Donald Trump. Photo from whitehouse.gov.

On his first day in office, President Trump issued a declaration of war.

It was not a declaration of war against a foreign government. It was a declaration of war against a branch of the U.S. government, the unofficial but constitutionally protected fourth branch, the press.

During a speech at CIA headquarters, our new president said, “I have a running war with the media.”

He was piqued because of press reports that the crowds for his inauguration was reported at lower numbers than those for the two Obama inaugurations. After 20 years in newsrooms, let me observe that crowd estimation is a very imprecise undertaking. It is not a science; they vary widely.

Of those reporting lower crowd numbers, he added, “They’re going to pay big time.”

His press secretary Sean Spicer used numbers from ridership on the Washington D.C. subway to refute the Trump-Obama crowd comparisons. But he used the wrong numbers. Here are the ridership numbers dug out by the Wall Street Journal: Friday for Trump’s inauguration, 570,557; for Obama’s 2013 inauguration, 782,000; and 1.1 million for the 2009 Obama event.

Nonetheless, it’s not that big a deal either way. Who cares? Only a person who cares way down deep about ratings, an entertainer, would care enough to declare war on the media that counted lesser numbers. Further, most entertainers would not make a big deal of the different counts.

Since I compiled 105 valid reasons to vote against the real estate mogul during his campaign for the Oval Office, and failed to convince enough people to do so, even in my home Washington County, I called a timeout between his election and his inauguration.

I wanted to keep an open mind about his performance as president. Words, especially his words, mean little. I choose to watch his feet. But it’s not that words mean nothing.

In the case of the Fourth Estate, his war of words with the press is complicated. Many would agree that he played the mainstream press like a fiddle during the campaign. He used social media to turn them inside out. In their confusion, they gave him unending headlines, and his notoriety played well with enough factions to get him elected.

So, the media helped mightily to get him elected. Instead of gratitude, he chooses to continue to use reporters and editors as a piñata. “Dishonest” reporters are his straw men.

I have been on both sides of government, having served as a newsman and as a press aide to a cabinet member in the first Nixon Administration, and I can assure you that the government has only partial interest in telling the whole truth about matters of state. Only the press can get out a semblance of the whole story.

I have known hundreds of reporters, both as their manager and as someone reported on in business and politics. They are paid poorly, so most of them do it because it is their calling. I have only known a few who were unreliable or dishonest.

None of them are perfect. They all have biases as they approach a story, whether they admit it or not. But most of American reporters try to filter out their own points of view. They are trained to be accurate, but do make an occasional mistake. Most media sources correct their mistakes.

Pundits, columnists, talk show hosts and editorial writers, of course, express a point of view. Trump has his views, and they have theirs. Some support him on some issues, and many oppose him. That’s the dialog of a democracy. He is not a king or emperor.

But Trump’s war is seldom with the opinion writers. It is usually with work-a-day reporters or interviewers just trying to get a story straight.

From what we have seen so far, those reporters are going to have a tough four years digging out the reality of what is going on in the president’s head.

If they start taking more hits from President Trump and a running war really ensues, I am on the side of the reporters. I’ll get a far straighter story from them than him.

John Torinus is the chairman of Serigraph Inc. and a former Milwaukee Sentinel business editor who blogs regularly at johntorinus.com.

Categories: Op-Ed, Politics, The Press

11 thoughts on “Op Ed: In Defense Of The Press”

  1. Vincent Hanna says:

    He is doing what his supporters want and it’s not going to change. NPR’s On Point program just this morning spent an hour talking to three Trump supporters: a man heavily involved in Oklahoma politics and two women who aren’t as active in politics, one from Indiana and the other from Missouri. They were asked about everything from his cabinet picks to his tone to the media. All three (along with Trump supporters who called in to the show) think the media is the enemy and is not attempting to pursue the truth of serve as fact checkers, even on stuff that’s easily proven as a lie like the size of the inauguration. To them all media is liberal media and their only agenda is to embarrass Trump and chastise conservatives (they didn’t discuss Breitbart or conservative media at all during the hour). The media can fact check all it wants and people like Torinus can defend the press all they want. It won’t change anything.

  2. Virginia says:

    John, thanks for a clear analysis.

    “Sean Spicer, the new White House press secretary, made it clear in his first official briefing that, like his boss, he would break with” longstanding protocols about releasing information and working with the media. Instead, Spicer will need to conform to Trump’s penchant for lying, what KellyAnne Conway tried to call “alternate facts.”


  3. Sue says:

    I am hoping recent events energize reporters, motivate them to start digging digging digging.
    Reporters can’t report without the support of editors. Editors can’t back reporters without the support of publishers. Or the equivalent of whichever media type you follow. Being on the side of reporters is all very good, but doesn’t mean a thing if they’re not allowed to do their jobs. You have to go further up the chain and decide if the outlet they’re working for is doing its job.
    If you want Trump exposed, subscribe to or support news outlets that are committed to getting at the truth.

  4. Rich says:

    Reporters can’t report without the support of editors. Editors can’t back reporters without the support of publishers

    and none of them can do anything without money, and money is usually from advertising, which creates a paradox.
    Unfortunately, this means that the most-well-meaning and motivated citizens will have to pick-and-choose which publication memberships they’ll follow (and hopefully support, for that annoying money part) and, in the process confirm their own biases which sets the stage for further breakdown of discourse.

    For example, my support of the NPR organization and reference to its publications in a discourse will be dismissed out-of-hand by certain receivers simply because it is NPR.

    God speed and good luck to us all; we’re going to need it.

  5. Duane Snyder says:

    Boy, and then there are people like me who feel the media is part of the problem and a big reason why we now have a President Trump. More sports, weather, and mayhem please!

  6. Barb- West Bend says:

    “We won with the poorly educated. I love the poorly educated.” Donald Trump

  7. Vincent Hanna says:

    President Genius thinks that there was massive voter fraud, voter fraud on an unprecedented level in the history of this nation, literally millions of illegal votes cast. Yet the voter fraud effort didn’t think to, you know, make sure that Clinton actually won the election? He’s as smart as the dumbest person in your high school graduating class.

  8. Carlo paniccia says:

    Mr.trump:we don’t want to hear you fighting with Mexico president.Time to close under ground tunnels on both sides,before any wall gets built,funds for border wall must be in place.Mention this to the Mexican president,when they approach point of entry have their papers out check for certainty.You have to get though with russia,get Russians diplomats expelled give these diplomats time to leave USA.within 3 days,get USA.people out of Ussr.then the middle east will have to release all of USA.people back in this country.You better understand lots of immigrants in this country,came in the USA.for better way of life,living,school to learn the English language,register to vote after becoming USA.citizen.

  9. Virginia says:

    I agree with Duane that we have some of the major media to thank for Trump. As Les Moonves admitted, Trump was good for ratings for CBS–and thus they propped them up. Same for the others whether they admit it or not.

    It seems Donald Trump has learned everything he knows about dealing with the press from Valdimir Putin. Except Trump, for now, is hampered by not being able to control the press. In Russia, Putin can assure that “alternate facts” are repeated ad nauseum until they are believed as true. I bet Trump wishes he could have doctored those crowd photos of his inauguration to match his far-fetched attendance estimates.

  10. Jason says:

    The Left have their boogiemen, the Koch bros, Alt Right, those damn Republicans. Who does Trump have to pick on? Supreme Court soon to be Conservative, the Senate Republicans own, the House of Representatives and Paul Ryan….THE CORPORATE MEDIA…bulls eye.

  11. Vincent Hanna says:

    Jason as a member of the alt right you know damn well who their boogiemen are. They aren’t white.

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