ActivePaper Archive Chasing ‘Stubborn Things’ - East Hampton Press, 8/15/2018


Chasing ‘Stubborn Things’

In May, CBS’s veteran “60 Minutes” correspondent Lesley Stahl told a group of fellow journalists at the Deadline Club Awards Dinner in New York City about a candid conversation she’d had with Donald J. Trump when he was running for president in 2016. It’s something every American should hear.

Ms. Stahl, whom CBS News notes was the first television journalist to interview Mr. Trump after his November 2016 win, said she spoke with him earlier that year, chastising him for attacks on the media. “I said, ‘You know, that is getting tired. Why are you doing this?’” Ms. Stahl recalled. “He said, ‘You know why I do it? I do it to discredit you all and demean you all so when you write negative stories about me, no one will believe you.’ He said that.” After a beat, she added, “So, put that in your head for a minute.”


The Boston Globe’s editorial board called for newspapers to participate today in a rally of sorts, responding to the president’s damaging rhetoric directed at the media. The Press joins with news organizations of all sizes and in all parts of the nation to say a few simple things.

Being labeled “the enemy of the American people,” as President Trump has called us repeatedly, isn’t hurtful. We’re tougher than that. But journalists universally worry about the damage it does not just to our industry but to democracy itself.

They’re not just words. If the public can be convinced that journalists are no longer seeking truth, but are mere foot soldiers or ringleaders for political ideologies, it shakes the foundation of the free press. That, in turn, weakens the columns supporting this entire American experiment. The onus is on the media to be objective, fair and accuratebut it’s also on the readers, listeners and viewers to ignore sweeping generalizations that recklessly attempt to make reality malleable.

As Americans, we can all agree to commit to one thing: truth. It can be slippery, but it’s not subjective. There are no “evolving truths” or “alternate facts.” Facts are, as John Adams said, “stubborn things.” Journalists—national, regional, local—are committed to facts, and seeking truth. Don’t let anyone, not even the president, convince you otherwise.

Is Ms. Stahl telling the truth? There’s no tape of the conversation to prove it, but her reputation suggests she can be taken at her word. It’s hardly a revelation that discrediting journalists—and journalism—benefits a president with a history of prevarication. If he succeeds, the damage will far outlast his administration.

In addition to casting doubt on any information that shows him in a bad light, he also seeks to intimidate both journalists and publishers, so that they will fear reprisal if they publish anything critical of the president. That has a chilling effect on both freedom of speech and freedom of the press.

Criticize the media, at all levels, when they deserve criticism. But resist allowing political passion to start a rhetorical brush fire that destroys the essential relationship between the masses and the media. Thomas Jefferson said, “Our liberty cannot be guarded but by the freedom of the press, nor that be limited without danger of losing it.” This is a matter of national security—stay vigilant.