Here are the comments I sent to CNN earlier this week:
Dear CNN News Producers:
(I know you won’t pay attention to this, but I’ll say it anyway.)
Please, please, PLEASE STOP all coverage of Donald Trump “controversies.”
We know his M.O. We’ve seen enough of his supporters drunk on his Kool-Aid defend him… to the death. It’s the same pattern, over and over, with nothing, absolutely nothing substantive. From Kate Bolduan to Brooke Baldwin …enough of the cat fights between women who support Trump and women who don’t.
And WOLF! Et tu, WOLF, et tu!?
If you continue down this road of covering every bizarre word and action by Trump, you will quickly, and I mean quickly lose credibility. Trump’s controversies are NO LONGER NEWS. And if they are, if you really consider them to be newsworthy, then, for the love of God, let FOX cover him.
If he gives a speech, talks about specific policy issues, interested, but absolutely NOTHING ELSE, PLEASE!
Cover John Kasich, Bernie Sanders… Bozo the clown! ANYBODY! but Donald Trump.
Thank you. I feel a little better, now.
Monday (Mar.28), in a speech addressed to journalists, President Obama spoke about the current extremist atmosphere surrounding the Republican campaign – specifically by Donald Trump.
“The number one question I am getting as I travel around the world or talk to world leaders right now is, ‘What is happening in America — about our politics?’ And it’s not because around the world people have not seen crazy politics; it is that they understand America is the place where you can’t afford completely crazy politics.”
The president referenced the recent controversies surrounding Republican frontrunner Donald Trump, pointing out, “The divisive and often vulgar rhetoric that’s aimed at everybody, but often is focused on the vulnerable or women or minorities.
“The violent reaction that we see, as well as the deafening silence from too many of our leaders in the coarsening of the debate. The sense that facts don’t matter, that they’re not relevant. That what matters is how much attention you can generate. A sense that this is a game as opposed to the most precious gift our Founders gave us — this collective enterprise of self-government. And so it’s worth asking ourselves what each of us — as politicians or journalists, but most of all, as citizens — may have done to contribute to this atmosphere in our politics. I was going to call is ‘carnival atmosphere,’ but that implies fun.”
Obama used an award event named in honor of New York Times reporter Robin Toner for her dedication to the high standards as a journalist to talk about the current crisis in the Republican campaign and the need for journalists to do more to hold candidates feet to the fire.
“Robin’s work was meticulous,” the president said. “No detail was too small to confirm, and no task too minor to complete. She famously developed her own fact-checking system, cleaning up every name and date and figure in her piece — something most reporters relied on others to do. …
“It was about Robin’s commitment to seeking out and telling the truth. She would not stand for any stray mark that might mar an otherwise flawless piece — because she knew the public relied on her to give them the truth as best as she could find it.
“I say this not because of some vague notion of ‘political correctness,’ which seems to be increasingly an excuse to just say offensive things or lie out loud. I say this not out of nostalgia, because politics in America has always been tough. Anybody who doubts that should take a look at what Adams and Jefferson and some of our other Founders said about each other. I say this because what we’re seeing right now does corrode our democracy and our society. …
“But when our elected officials and our political campaign become entirely untethered to reason and facts and analysis, when it doesn’t matter what’s true and what’s not, that makes it all but impossible for us to make good decisions on behalf of future generations. It threatens the values of respect and tolerance that we teach our children and that are the source of America’s strength. It frays the habits of the heart that underpin any civilized society — because how we operate is not just based on laws, it’s based on habits and customs and restraint and respect. It creates this vacuum where baseless assertions go unchallenged, and evidence is optional. And as we’re seeing, it allows hostility in one corner of our politics to infect our broader society. And that, in turn, tarnishes the American brand. …
“So I believe,” Obama continued, “the electorate would be better served if your networks and your producers would give you the room, the capacity to follow your best instincts and dig deeper into the things that might not always be flashy, but need attention.
“A job well done is about more than just handing someone a microphone. It is to probe and to question, and to dig deeper, and to demand more. The electorate would be better served if that happened. …
“…When people put their faith in someone who can’t possibly deliver on his or her promises, that only breeds more cynicism.
“As I believe that that for all the sideshows of the political season, Americans are still hungry for truth, it’s just hard to find. It’s hard to wade through. The curating function has diminished in this Smartphone age. But people still want to know what’s true. …
“Real people depend on getting information they can trust because they are giving over decision-making that has a profound effect on their lives to a bunch of people who are pretty remote and very rarely will they ever have the chance to ask that person a direct question, or be able to sort through the intricacies of the policies that will determine their wages or their ability to retire, or their ability to send their kid to college, or the possibility that their child will be sent to war. …
“That’s why the deep reporting, the informed questioning, the in-depth stories — the kind of journalism that we honor today — matters more than ever and, by the way, lasts longer than some slapdash Tweet that slips off our screens in the blink of an eye, that may get more hits today, but won’t stand up to the test of time. That’s the only way that our democracy can work. …
“My hope is, is that you continue to ask us questions that keep us honest and elevate our democracy. I ask that you continue to understand your role as a partner in this process. I say this often when I speak to Democratic partisan crowds: I never said, ‘Yes, I can.’ I said, ‘Yes, we can.’ And that means all of us. …”
Two of the ethical values that are not discussed enough are the dual values of civic virtue and citizenship. Civic duties include voting, reporting crimes, paying taxes, serving on a jury, protecting the environment. Civic virtues include running for an elected office, accepting appointments to office, working for candidates and giving time and money to responsible charities that do a lot of great work.
However, responsible citizenship means that we not only have a duty to vote, but to educate ourselves regarding the issues and the individuals running for office.
Journalists have a duty to inform that citizenry.
As ethicist Michael Josephson writes, journalists perform three functions: “1) Teacher – informing us of things we ought to know to make us better citizens and persons; 2) Conscience – confronting us with opinions and facts which challenge us to live up to our values and beliefs; and 3) Watchdog – uncovering and exposing corruption, mismanagement, waste, hypocrisy and other forms of impropriety which threaten public interests.”
However, in striving for excellence, journalists should be aware of the importance of self-restraint; that once they’ve put forth a story that has difficult, graphic, or otherwise unsavory aspects, to know the difference between reporting the news and exploiting it.
Yesterday, I was surprised at watching CNN’s Wolf Blitzer – a journalist I have long admired and continue to watch – repeatedly report about how Trump’s campaign manager manhandled a reporter at an event three weeks ago. After examining videos of the altercation, police felt they had enough evidence to charge Corey Lewandowski with “simple battery.”
That’s an important story, once or twice, but CNN and Blitzer continued to pound out detail after detail, interview after interview, essentially recycling the same facts over and over.
“I am deeply interested in the progress and elevation of journalism,” Joseph Pulitzer once said, “regarding it as a noble profession and one of unequaled importance for its influence upon the minds and morals of the people.”
My hope is that Blitzer, CNN, and other journalists, will focus more on elevating their craft, than lowering it by covering a never ending stream of ugly controversies in pursuit of ratings.