We should prepare ourselves for the emergence of a form of reporting that surely has existed but not on the scale we’re likely to soon experience. With Donald Trump attacking news outlets and individual reporters — denying them access when he doesn’t like what they report — intimidation of some journalists is to be expected.
The PEOTUS team has been planning new ways of treating the press at the White House that may well involve rewarding favorites. It doesn’t take a prescient observer to predict that under such circumstances make-nice to the president news will be on the rise.
CNN Brian Stelter’s contentious interview with BuzzFeed’s editor Ben Smith, lecturing him on good journalism after Trump put both in the same basket of enemies, is an example. Smith made an important point about this kind of your-dog-is-worse-than-my dog bickering between journalists:
I think — you know, there’s obviously an attempt to divide the press, to turn us on each other and to turn reasonable differences about editorial decisions into screaming matches between us on this show. I think that’s a trap that the media has obviously repeatedly fallen into over the last couple of years, but I think it’s better not to right now.
CNN’s recent New Day interview of Representative Jerry Nadler (Dem – N.Y.) by Alisyn Camerota also had some hallmarks of compensatory, make-nice to Donald Trump press. On the same day, CNN’s David Gregory was critical of John Lewis’ decision. And while that is fair enough on its own, with some exceptions CNN’s televised coverage has taken a tilt toward kowtowing to Trump since he attacked their journalistic integrity.
My article on “Courage as a Skill” in The Harvard Business Review describes the steps required to make extremely difficult ethical decisions. Congressman John Lewis made a thoughtful, personal and courageous decision to not attend Donald Trump’s inauguration — especially given the PEOTUS’s tendency to retaliate for what he perceives as personal slights. Representative Lewis didn’t demand that others join him or engage in incivility.
In Lewis’ estimation, given Donald Trump’s derogatory campaign comments about minorities, people with disabilities, and women conjoined with the intelligence report received by the public and by Congress behind closed doors, he could not in good conscience attend the inauguration.
Using Representatives John Lewis and Jerry Nadler, and others, to engage in make-nice news to appease Donald Trump, if that is indeed the case, is not only bad journalistic form, it’s an insult and threat to a free and responsible press.