I was asked today on Facebook by my friend Michael McDowell, a former BBC and Canadian Broadcasting Corp. reporter this: “Jamie, what is your position on the Times, Post (not WSJ yet), and other major prof. journalism orgs. actually calling Trump’s or Spicer’s or Conway’s lies, actually using that word, depending. Or false, or innacurate, etc. It has certainly been stepped up in recent days, esp. re. the claims on the numbers at the rallies.”
My response: “When the camp Trump comes out with a demonstrably untrue statement, that should be highlighted, but in news sections it should, I feel, be countered not by the reportorial voice but by another authority. So on the issue of Metro ridership, why not use a statement on the actual numbers from the transit authority? When Trump says he has not been feuding with the CIA, why not run what he has said in the past and what intelligence officials have said? In the more opinionated venues, the standards are different.”
It strikes me that the Washington Post and NYT are allowing themselves to be rattled into making a strategic error. At the same time, they are lowering their own professional standards. I can’t recall them handling any previous U.S. or foreign leader this way. Let the facts speak for themselves — reportorial claims of lies aren’t even necessary. But by opting for this approach they are devaluing their reporting and placing themselves on a par with Fox News. That is undermining their reportorial authority.
When it comes to opinion or pieces in opinionated news sites like the Daily Beast or Buzzfeed, the standards are different.