In a recent post, Liz Spayd, the newly appointed Public Editor of the New York Times, asked the open question as to whether Times readers see the paper as being overly liberal. In particular, supporters of Donald Trump have complained that New York City’s traditional journal of record has a “relentless bias” against the Republican nominee.
While I have been an occasional critic of the “Gray Lady,” I rise to her defense in this election cycle. I’m not talking here about the Editorial page of the paper which is unashamedly left-leaning in its opinion-making. Rather, I focus on how publications seeking to cover this election in a fair and unbiased manner should approach the Trump candidacy.
For the reasons I outline below, I believe that the extraordinary nature of the Trump campaign requires responsible journalists to jettison their traditional “on the one hand, on the other hand” paradigm. Never has there been a candidate who so brazenly lies, spouts racial and religious insults and threatens to violate treaties and the Constitution alike. Under such extreme conditions blandly to apply the rules of politics-as-usual is to abdicate the vital responsibility of the Fourth Estate.
I am not advocating an abandonment of journalistic ethics or turning the front page or home page into the op-ed page. Instead, I believe that fairness in the context of the Clinton-Trump campaign requires a heightened scrutiny of both candidates. For example, when running video of either candidate or reporting their comments, their lies or inconsistent prior statements should be called out in real-time. This can be done with a crawler on live video or a corrections box adjoining text.
To her great credit, Fox’s Megyn Kelly strongly confronted Candidate Trump with his long and sorry history of misogyny. Likewise, Chris Mathews of MSNBC really did play hardball with Trump over the candidate’s waffling on exactly how women should be punished for seeking an abortion. Unfortunately, these are rare displays of journalistic backbone in the face of Trumpian bombast, bigotry and bullying.
Where were the follow-up questions when Trump flatly asserted he could not possibly release his tax returns because they were being audited by the IRS? (Think about that one a moment – why should it matter if Trump is being audited if he was previously happy to sign and file the returns as correct?). Or who lifted a pen or a microphone to condemn Trump’s proposals to deport 11 million immigrants, ban Muslims from the US, encourage Japan and South Korea to obtain nuclear weapons, welch on the US national debt or abrogate the NATO treaty? These are not serious political policy positions. This is race-
baiting and rabble-rousing and needs to be called out and corrected.
So the next time the New York Times self-consciously worries that it is not being fair to Mr. Trump it should consider whether the normal rules of journalism apply to the parallel Trump universe or whether independence, fairness and integrity require a more exacting edit.