Thursday, August 16, 2018


Bravo to the hundreds of newspapers that made good on their promise to editorialize against President Donald Trump's anti-press rhetoric today.

As noted earlier this week, The Boston Globe launched the effort with a plea last week to its fellow daily papers, and others, to use their opinion space today to rail against Trump's false claims of "fake news," as well as his hateful attacks on the media that include calling the press the "enemy of the people" and all but promoting violence against them.

"Replacing a free media with a state-run media has always been a first order of business for any corrupt regime taking over a country," the Globe editorial stated today. "Today in the United States we have a president who has created a mantra that members of the media who do not blatantly support the policies of the current US administration are the “enemy of the people.” This is one of the many lies that have been thrown out by this president, much like an old-time charlatan threw out 'magic' dust or water on a hopeful crowd."

The Globe first requested other papers to follow in a plea issued on August 10 that urged editorial boards nationwide to take a stand today. Hundreds did, with many linked through the Globe website. The Globe also posted a strong video that included reminders of Trump's hateful press bashing and its continued reasons for protesting.

Among others that weighed in is The New York Times, which stated, in part:

“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.”
In 2018, some of the most damaging attacks are coming from government officials. Criticizing the news media — for underplaying or overplaying stories, for getting something wrong — is entirely right. News reporters and editors are human, and make mistakes. Correcting them is core to our job. But insisting that truths you don’t like are “fake news” is dangerous to the lifeblood of democracy. And calling journalists the “enemy of the people” is dangerous, period.

The Times also published parts of many other newspaper editorials -- from the Arizona Daily Star of Tucson to the Times-Tribune in Corbin, KY. -- claiming the same view, both on its editorial page and online.

Even the conservative Orange County Register weighed in, stating

The news media are not enemies of the people, and a free press is critical to an informed citizenry that seeks to hold its government accountable. Disparaging the press in the face of unfavorable coverage is a cheap way to dodge the issues and wouldn’t be allowed in a basic debate class ... Donald Trump is not the first president to be frustrated by negative press coverage. The press has been adversarial since the earliest days of our nation, when our founding fathers made frequent use of newspapers — some of them owned newspapers — to advance their political ideologies, and more frequently, to disparage each other, often anonymously.

But not everyone obliged, with The Washington Post, Los Angeles Times and San Francisco Chronicle among those taking a pass. Although each did mention they agreed that Trump went overboard, they said they wanted to remain independent and not join a group effort. "This newspaper’s editorial board has previously responded to Trump’s attacks on news organizations," the Post wrote. "But Editorial Page Editor Fred Hiatt said Saturday that the board would not participate in the organized response."

Still, those that did use the day to shoot back at the anti-press president made a strong statement that will hopefully carry on as they continue the important work of speaking truth to power.

Tuesday, August 14, 2018


Newspapers appear to be banding together to counter President Donald Trump's ongoing anti-press rants and attacks with a print protest slated for Thursday, August 16.

Spearheaded by The Boston Globe, more than 100 newspapers so far have agreed to publish editorials on that day targeting Trump and his recent claims of "fake news" by traditional outlets, as well as his saying the press is the "enemy of the people." 

‘‘We are not the enemy of the people,’’ Marjorie Pritchard, Globe deputy managing editor for the editorial page said in an AP story Friday where the plan was announced. It later added, "the Globe has reached out to editorial boards nationwide to write and publish editorials on Aug. 16 denouncing what the newspaper called a 'dirty war against the free press.'’’

AP reported that as of Friday, "about 70 outlets had committed to editorials so far, with the list expected to grow. The publications ranged from large metropolitan dailies, such as the Houston Chronicle, Minneapolis Star Tribune, Miami Herald and Denver Post, to small weekly papers with circulations as low as 4,000."

The move has also brought support from the American Society of News Editors and the New England  Newspaper and Press Association.

Michael MaLoon, vice-president for innovation and communication at the News Media Alliance (formerly the Newspaper Association of America) told me that his organization sent a request for newspapers to join in to its nearly 2,000 members on Friday and again on Monday. 

"We distributed that request to our folks, we are in support of the efforts and we were more than willing to distribute that request out to our members," he said in an interview. "It's a positive effort on both the Globe and invited publishers; we are talking about folks who are trained journalists and really look to report the facts, correct mistakes and make sure what they are reporting is true and factual, we need to enforce that."

See the NMA appeal to its members below: 

The Boston Globe is reaching out to editorial boards across the country to propose a coordinated response. The Globe proposes to publish an editorial on or as close as possible to Thursday, August 16 on the dangers of the administration's assault on the press and ask others to commit to publishing their own editorials on the same date. Publications, whatever their politics, could make a powerful statement by standing together in the common defense of their profession and the vital role it plays in government for and by the people. 

The impact of Trump's assault on journalism looks different in Boise than it does in Boston. Our words will differ. But at least we can agree that such attacks are alarming.

A free and independent press is one of the most sacred principles enshrined in the Constitution. Join The Globe to help make sure it stays so.

The NMA also provided a draft of an editorial that many of the papers plan to use, which was first distributed by the New York Press Association.

See that draft editorial below:

We’ve been complacent.We thought everybody knew how important a free press was to our world and that all this talk about us being the enemy of the people would be dismissed for the silliness that it is.

But the reckless attacks have continued, instigated and encouraged by our president.

When the leader of the free world works to erode the public’s trust in the media, the potential for damage is enormous, both here and abroad. We once set an example of free and open government for the world to follow. Now those who seek to suppress the free flow of information are doing so with impunity.

The time has come for us to stand up to the bullying. The role journalism plays in our free society is too crucial to allow this degradation to continue.

We aren’t the enemy of the people. We are the people. We aren’t fake news. We are your news and we struggle night and day to get the facts right.

On bitter cold January nights, we’re the people’s eyes and ears at town, village and school board meetings. We tell the stories of our communities, from the fun of a county fair to the despair a family faces when a loved one is killed.

We are always by your side. We shop the same stores, attend the same churches and hike the same trails. We struggle with daycare and worry about paying for retirement.

In our work as journalists, our first loyalty is to you. Our work is guided by a set of principles that demand objectivity, independence, open-mindedness and the pursuit of the truth. We make mistakes, we know. There’s nothing we hate more than errors but we acknowledge them, correct them and learn from them.

Our work is a labor of love because we love our country and believe we are playing a vital role in our democracy. Self-governance demands that our citizens need to be well-informed and that’s what we’re here to do. We go beyond the government issued press release or briefing and ask tough questions. We hold people in power accountable for their actions. Some think we’re rude to question and challenge. We know it’s our obligation.

People have been criticizing the press for generations. We are not perfect. But we’re striving every day to be a better version of ourselves than we were the day before.

That’s why we welcome criticism. But unwarranted attacks that undermine your trust in us cannot stand. The problem has become so serious that newspapers across the nation are speaking out against these attacks in one voice today on their editorial pages.

As women’s rights pioneer and investigative journalist Ida B. Wells wrote in 1892: “The people must know before they can act and there is no educator to compare with the press.” 

It's unclear how many, if any, of the papers will place the editorial on the front page. 

This is the second time this year that newspapers have united to oppose anti-press efforts.

In February, seven newspapers in Washington State published front-page editorials denouncing a proposed law that would have protected the state legislature from all state open government laws.

Senate Bill 6617 exempted both state houses from the state Public Records Act. To add to the sleaziness of it, the bill was approved just one month after a judge ruled that the state legislature was subject to the act. 

Even more disturbing was the process that was used to ram through the bill — no committee process, no meaningful public hearing and no debate on the Senate or House floors,” The Seattle Times wrote in its front-page editorial on Feb. 27, 2018. “Yes, and lawmakers defending their vote called it a transparency bill. The public will have more access than it did, more than one lawmaker said. Well, a little more than nothing is not very much.”   

Ten news media organizations including The Associated Press and The Times filed suit against the bill, while six other daily papers also published Page One editorials slamming the secrecy effort. Those included the The News Tribune of Tacoma, The Spokesman-Review in Spokane, The Olympian, The Columbian of Vancouver, The Bellingham Herald, The Tri-City Herald, The Yakima Herald-Republic and the Walla Walla Union-Bulletin 

Eventually, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee vetoed the exemption bill. 

Will the latest editorial protests have any similar effect on Trump, or readers who might believe his fake news lies? Let's hope so. 

Monday, August 13, 2018


It's not surprising that the press has jumped all over the latest Omarosa story related to her time at the White House. Just this morning she released tapes through NBC News of apparent phone calls with Donald Trump after she was fired, and an apparent private meeting with Chief of Staff John Kelly.

All of this, of course, is part of the promotion for her new book, set to be released Tuesday, titled: Unhinged: An Insider's Account of the Trump White House. Well-named considering her background and that of the president.

Still, this is news if the tapes are authentic, and they appear to be. But what that news is follows several paths that reporters need to be careful navigating.

First there is Omaroso -- whose full name is Omarosa Onee Manigault Newman -- who came to the job with little experience and her own checkered past. She actually worked previously for Democrats as an assistant to Vice President Al Gore in the 1990s and on the Obama campaign in Ohio in 2008. 

She  spent "several weeks" at the U.S. Commerce Department in 2000 before being "asked to leave as quickly as possible, she was so disruptive,” Cheryl Shavers, that department's former undersecretary for technology told People. “One woman wanted to slug her.” 

The same article also quoted a former Gore staffer as saying her job for the vice-president involved answering invitations and “she didn’t do her job, and it got everybody in trouble." She, of course, later went on to The Apprentice -- three versions of it, actually --  where Trump fired her each time. She also later appeared on CBS' Big Brother.

So given Trump's TV and reality show approach, it might not have been a surprise that he hired her. It might also not have been a surprise that she would be fired as well given her poor employment track record -- reality or not.

So when she comes back with a book, interviews and tapes making allegations about the president, the press needs to take all of her claims, history and background into consideration as they seek to get the truth and not fall into the celebrity gossip and mudslinging that has taken over too much of both reality TV and political coverage.

There are also the legal aspects of her recordings. In one case, she apparently recorded a phone conversation with Trump in which he  claims he did not know she was being fired and was not happy about it. Assuming Trump was in the District of Columbia at the time, that would fall under that jurisdiction's phone recording laws, which indicate only one party to a recorded phone call needs to give consent, according to the Digital Media Law Center.   

The other bombshell Sunday was Omarosa releasing tapes she recorded of her and Kelly, apparently in the White House situation room, with Kelly stating, "the staff and everyone on the staff works for me and not the president" when she asked about Trump's knowledge of her firing.

In playing the tapes, NBC News made clear that it did not know the context of the entire conversations, an important caveat. It is also important for the press to take into account that both Trump and his staff have very spotty records with facts, accuracy and employee treatment. When asked about Omarosa this week, Trump called her a "low-life."

Many of the news outlets reporting on all of the recording and book claims appear to be doing well giving full background on the former White House staffer, her past work, and specific claims. On the Kelly secret recording, the question has arisen if such a move was illegal given that it took place in the Situation Room, a space reserved for high-level security-related conversations. posted a good story asking national security experts about it, with most agreeing it was not a criminal act. 

In some instances Omarosa contends Kelly's words to her were "a threat." Such a charge needs to be carefully examined as it involves someone's opinion on a subject rather than related facts. Asking a legal expert or criminal investigator if such a statement could be considered a threat would be helpful. 

Finally there is the aspect of such tell-all books and their credibility, fact-checking, and sourcing. I have written about many such books in the past and the false claims that later come out, and worse the lack of real factual reviews in most of today's book publishing. 

Omarosa's book is being published by Gallery Books, a Simon and Schuster imprint that has done similar books by Derek Jeter and Amy Schumer. 

But Simon and Schuster also had to retract a 2013 book from its Threshold label by former British security contractor Dylan Davies, whose claims about the 2012 Benghazi attack were later found to be inaccurate. His story had led to a 60 Minutes segment that was questioned and prompted the suspension of CBS News correspondent Lara Logan.

That same year, Threshold cancelled a planned book by offensive right-wing commentator Milo Yiannopoulos after tapes surfaced indicating he "seemed to condone sex between men and boys."

I asked many veterans of the book publishing world at that time about fact-checking and accuracy in such tell-alls. Most admitted there is little that can be confirmed given the way the organizations are set up.   

"As a general course of business, publishers do not conduct a thorough fact-check on most of their books," Sloan Harris, a literary agent at ICM Talent who represented New Yorker veterans Jane Mayer and Ken Auletta, told me at the time. "A number of our prominent authors will, in fact, employ an outside fact-checker at their own expense."

Robert Weil, a 35-year editor at W.W. Norton & Co. Inc., said back then that staffing full-time fact-checkers was just not possible for publishers: "It's really on a book-by-book basis, you don't have an entire staff to fact-check a book ... We are all fallible. There are much bigger staffs at certain magazines to do huge amounts of fact-checking, which book publishers have not had. Often you will ask an author to hire someone to do that."

Omorasa could very well be telling the truth in her book, which also includes claims that Trump used the N-word and other embarrassing accusations. Although several people cited by Omarosa as sources for the N-word claim have recently denied it.

Pollster Frank Luntz tweeted Friday, "I’m in @Omarosa’s book on page 149. She claims to have heard from someone who heard from me that I heard Trump use the N-word. Not only is this flat-out false (I’ve never heard such a thing), but Omarosa didn’t even make an effort to call or email me to verify. Very shoddy work."

Omarosa has since claimed she heard Trump use the N-word herself. With such changing accusations and denials, it is hard to tell what to believe, and perhaps as important to carefully report it.

But if it is her word against his, the public is left to choose between two rather questionable people. We have known for years that Trump lies about 70 percent of the time, according to Politifact

Less is known about Omarosa's honesty, although her track record on employment and treatment of others is weak, and that fact she is a fired ex-employee needs to be taken into account.

I urge the press, and the public, to tread carefully as this story continues.


Monday, August 6, 2018


Truth has always been a fragile thing. News outlets worth anything seek to find truth and accuracy first, with ratings, speed, scoops and attention later.  

Despite what our commander in chief and many of his followers think, I still contend most journalists who are professionals want to get the real news and facts out.

But in recent years, and even just the past few months, truth has been a real casualty of a perfect storm combining fame, technology, speed, lies, fear, paranoia and attention. I have long considered the Internet to be a necessary evil. It offers a wealth of information and access for both reporters and news consumers.

Since it really hit in the early 2000s, and more so in just the past few years, the web has surpassed truth with its own version of facts, beliefs and, of course, actual "fake news."

That term that Donald Trump tries to pin on legitimate news outlets is more appropriate for the news sources Trump prefers -- not just Fox News, Breitbart and The Daily Caller, who twist and turn and make up information, but a whole other realm of fake information.

I'm talking about outright phony news sites and web sources that either spew insufficient claims or outright false stories. We've seen this as far back as the "birther" movement that claimed Barack Obama was not born in the United States. This falsity made up out of whole cloth and standing on the shoulders of racism and anti-immigrant hate is still believed by many. 

Trump, of course, caught much of his initial right-wing wind by supporting that claim and never really walking away from it. That led to further lies from the blogosphere: the claims that Hillary Clinton had some kind of brain issue, false speculation that Obamacare included "death panels," and the most outrageous -- the weird accusation that Hillary Clinton was part of some sex trafficking ring out of a D.C. pizza place.

That last one focused on Comet Ping Pong, the fun night spot with ties to my former Media Matters for America boss David Brock. We had several holiday parties there during my time at MMFA and nothing close to what was alleged occurred. Zero, nothing, lies. You might as well have said martians landed.

Sadly, what did occur was when one crazy believer in this lie took deadly aim at the place in 2016, resulting in shots fired and fears raised. 

Also unfortunate is that this lie and others have resurfaced under the weird Q Anon conspiracy, which appears to be the belief that some hidden government source has released information to substantiate that and other false claims. Among them: JFK Jr. did not die, Robert Mueller is actually investigating Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, and those two and others are wearing ankle bracelets to monitor their actions. 

As NPR reported last week:

For a while, QAnon posts were mostly limited to anonymous Internet message boards, like 4chan and 8chan. But over the past year, "Q" has gained a host of new believers and followers. A popular YouTube video explaining QAnon has racked up nearly 200,000 views, and according to NBC News, a mobile phone application related to the conspiracy theory climbed near the top of the Apple App Store rankings earlier this year.

Q received new attention last week when several people at a Trump rally in Tampa sported Q T-shirts and signs, giving the movement (or perhaps bowel movement) a bigger national platform.

But worse than that attention is the way it adds to the already dangerous ability of news fakers and other perpetrators of lies to spread their word, on the Internet and elsewhere. That is where the truth is most harmed.

Add to that Trump's constant attacks on the press --  the most recent occurring Sunday when he went on a real Twitter tirade that included calling the press "sick" and "dangerous" and capable of starting a war -- and truth is in big trouble.

Anti-press politics and wild conspiracies are nothing new, of course. Presidents as far back as John Adams, who signed the Alien and Sedition Act that outlawed anti-government criticisms, and as recent as Bill Clinton, who ripped press coverage of his affair with Monica Lewinsky after he lied about it, have been critical of press coverage. Although I don't recall any of them accusing vast numbers of respected reporters of extolling "fake news" with no evidence.

As for conspiracies, the flat-earth believers go back centuries, while many still believe we did not land on the moon and that Elvis Presley lives. Still, most of those are considered fringe and with no real broad support.

But what Q and Trump and others who spread these untruths around the web do so dangerously is not only gin up the lies, but combine their belief in them with a disbelief in actual fact. By pushing the fake story and attacking the real news sources, double damage is done.

A 2016 survey commissioned for Buzzfeed found that Americans are fooled by fake news headlines 75 percent of the time and that "people who cite Facebook as a major source of news are more likely to view fake news headlines as accurate than those who rely less on the platform for news."

A more recent poll in April from Monmouth University revealed that 77 percent of respondents believed "major traditional television and newspaper media outlets report 'fake news.” Politico reported that that was a sharp increase from a similar poll a year earlier that found 63 percent believed so. An Axios study in June revealed that the rate of disbelief was higher among Republicans, at 92 percent.

And at a time when true journalism is more vital than ever -- not only to keep tabs on Trump and the federal government, but also track critical issues from the environment to health to economics and human rights -- this wave of false attacks does the most damage.

The famed satirist Jonathan Swift is credited with saying, "A lie can travel halfway around the world by the time the truth puts on its shoes." With today's Internet and its band of lying believers, that has never been truer.

Wednesday, August 1, 2018


Conspiracy theorist and outright liar Alex Jones has long been the best example of the worst of right-wing media. But his claims of fake deaths from the 2012 Sandy Hook school attack that left 26 dead, most of them children, could be the worst.

But now he is facing a legal challenge that would do a great job of setting precedent for those who engage in such outlandish, dangerous behavior. It is also exposing the kind of damage that his words have done to families already dealing with the trauma of losing a child.

As Reuters reports today in a great overview of the case, Jones' false claims that the Sandy Hook killings were faked are being taken by many as truth, including some who have been harassing the parents of the dead.

Reuters writes:

Although his theory is false, people who believe Jones have for years harassed and taunted families of the victims, court papers showed and the families have said. Some families said they have been subjected to death threats and been forced to move several times in an effort to escape harassment.

The lawsuits filed in April by Leonard Pozner, Veronique De La Rosa and Neil Heslin seek at least $1 million in damages. Each claims Jones repeatedly asserted the Sandy Hook shootings were staged and that the parents were liars and frauds who helped in a cover-up, according to court documents.

No one is a greater proponent of press freedom than me and I cringe at the thought that any judgement against Jones could lead to future anti-press legal actions or penalties that are not warranted.

Still, the abuse of the First Amendment by Jones and his ilk needs some controls. If he is not willing to do it himself, perhaps the courts must.

I've followed Jones' act for years, most recently during my time at Media Matters for America, which has documented his lies and conspiracy theories for more than a decade. And if his Sandy Hook claims were not bad enough, he also accused a survivor of the 2018 Parkland shooting in Florida of being a "crisis actor."

Other examples of his outlandish lies and dangerous false claims range from believing the government can control the weather to backing Donald Trump's claims that millions of undocumented voters cast ballots in 2016. Trump, meanwhile, has supported Jones while launching "fake news" attacks at the likes of CNN. 

In a related move, Trump turned a Tampa, Fla., audience at his rally on Tuesday against CNN reporter Jim Acosta. Trump has launched attacks on Acosta several times in recent weeks. It was very disturbing to see this kind of treatment of a reporter doing his job.