With much rustling of pages, some 350 newspapers on Thursday will denounce President Trump’s scorn of the press by publishing their own editorials on the matter. The collective effort was organized by Boston Globe op-ed page editor Marjorie Pritchard, who insists the press is not an “enemy of the people,” and plans to sound the alarm on the president’s “unrelieved press bashing.”
The New York Times, The Dallas Morning News and The Denver Post are among those joining the fray, right along with weekly papers with circulations of 4,000. This editorial salvo could be a bust, though.
“Most journalists agree that there’s a great need for Trump rebuttals. I’ve written my share. But this Globe-sponsored coordinated editorial response is sure to backfire: It will provide Trump with circumstantial evidence of the existence of a national press cabal that has been convened solely to oppose him. When the editorials roll off the press on Thursday, all singing from the same script, Trump will reap enough fresh material to whale on the media for at least a month,” writes Jack Shafer, senior media analyst for Politico.
“Editorial pages of America, don’t unite! Think for yourselves! Reject this stupid pro-press assignment!” Mr. Shafer counsels.
James Freeman, assistant editorial page editor at The Wall Street Journal, is not particularly comfortable with Ms. Pritchard’s hope that the mass editorial effort will “educate readers,” or convince them that Mr. Trump’s press criticism are an “attack” on the First Amendment.
“Organizing large coalitions of people to simultaneously express similar messages is generally the work of politicians and public relations executives, rather than journalists,” writes Mr. Freeman.
“The First Amendment does not say that the government cannot criticize the press. Mr. Trump enjoys free speech just as his media adversaries do. Rather, the First Amendment prevents government from infringing on the rights of Americans to speak and publish. And on that score, there’s a reasonable case that Mr. Trump’s predecessor presented a greater threat to press freedom, to say nothing of Mr. Trump’s 2016 opponent. [Democratic presidential nominee Hillary] Clinton wanted to restrict the ability of Americans to make a documentary about her. We don’t recall editorial boards joining together to announce they were not with her,” Mr. Freeman said, adding that The Wall Street Journal would not be participating in the editorial attack.
Some hope that the press has a teachable moment during all this melodrama, however.
“The editorials Thursday will create a lot of chatter. Trump backers will call journalists whiners and journalists will counter-attack. Twitter and cable news will have a ball with it all. And Friday morning we will be right where we were this morning. Divided,” predicts Al Tompkins, a senior analyst at the Poynter Institute, a media think-tank.
“Before you publish your editorials extolling the virtues of journalism, ask yourself: How are you doing with that listening tour? How have you changed because of what you learned? How willing are you to be changed by discourse?” asks Mr. Tompkins.
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