It would be interesting to know what Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward thought of the opening words of the Washington Post coverage of the Watergate impeachment hearings in 1973. If you like to watch grass grow you would have loved the opening yesterday of the Senate select committees hearings on the Watergate and related campaign misdeeds, wrote Jules Witcover.
The correspondent writing in the paper that owned the story and ultimately brought down the presidency of Richard Nixon continued: The investigation doesnt intend to sacrifice thoroughness or when necessary, even boredom for sensationalism, just to hold the TV audience. Forty eight years and two impeachments later, this process and perhaps journalism have not moved on very much. But the expectation and environment for both politics and reporting is radically changed.
It is entirely possible that when unfolding their copies of the Post half a century ago, readers spat coffee across the table with indignation that a dramatic moment in the countrys democracy was being criticised for lack of media appeal but there was no Twitter and no live feedback loop to let Witcover know that. It is also possible that the unimpeachable authority of the press at the time meant this framing of the hearings was accepted without controversy.
The presidency of Donald Trump has been one defined by persistent spectacle and dramatic acts of transgression and rule-breaking. The most dramatic passage of any presidency is however when it is put under existential threat, either by the ballot box or by the process of impeachment. It would not be quite true to say that America held its breath last week at the outset of the first internet impeachment, because that would imply a sense of shared anticipation and expectation. Not only was Trump under close official scrutiny, so was the hectic coverage which has accompanied every second of the administration.
Editors at Reuters and NBC News were not shielded by the barriers of time and distance enjoyed by the Post when it delivered similar verdicts on the first day of impeachment hearings. Reuters headline: Consequential, but dull: Trump hearings begin without a bang, was matched in its lack of self-awareness by NBC News correspondent Jonathan Allen, who wrote that the witnesses lacked the pizzazz necessary to capture public attention. The ensuing critique was savage: Twitter, which sometimes feels like the whole of journalism, lit up with condemnation pizzazz was not the point.
The extended and exhaustingly dystopian media operation of Trumps presidency has been run by the main protagonist like a particularly nightmarish version of the Apprentice. But it is not entertainment. It has caused real pain, danger and death to citizens as many presidencies do, but it has been carried out with a naked agenda of self-interest and constitutional disregard which has shocked all but the elected Republican representatives.
In last weeks hearings, the first witnesses on the stand, William Taylor and George Kent, were serious but their testimony was far from boring. Taylor dropped new evidence, not previously known about, during his sober testimony. The potential effect of coverage that then tells audiences nothing to see here, is interpreted not just as opinion but as irresponsible reporting and editing.
The imperative for journalists now is to not only report events as they happen, but frame them with an awareness of what happens as a result of their reporting. There is no such thing as just a headline, or an incautiously deployed adjective, that will go unnoticed halfway down your copy. Without wanting to criticise already hard-pressed journalists, it is clear that many newsrooms, even the most well-resourced, do not have a strategy for coping with this world of reporting, publishing and amplifying.
At the other end of the journalistic spectrum in America last week, the humble student newspaper, there was another example of how rapidly ethical ground shifts and why the field needs to adapt more quickly.
The Daily Northwestern, a newspaper produced principally by undergraduates, posted an unusual apology for their coverage of a student protest during a visit by former attorney general Jeff Sessions to campus. Following the coverage, students protestors who were photographed and contacted for interviews complained about violations to their privacy from what is completely normal practice in reporting public events. Instead of standing firm, the editorial board of the paper apologised for failing to consider the impact of our reporting, adding: We know we hurt students that night particularly those in marginalised communities.
The ugly again Twitter pile-on that ensued from professional journalists criticising students for failing to uphold the tenets of journalism was as unseemly as it was unnecessary. While by any normal standards of journalism, the paper should not have apologised for constructing the important public record of what happened with perfectly ethical practices the context of this situation made it understandable why they might regret their reporting. These are students who might feel that in Trumps America, being associated with such a protest would endanger their status as residents, risk future job opportunities and even perhaps lead to attacks and harassment. They are perhaps better placed to understand the importance of a piece even in a student paper better than highly experienced journalists who learned their craft outside a hostile media environment.
The dignity of Troy Closson, editor of the Daily Northwestern, in tweeting a thread of explanation and clarification was an object lesson to the much more prominent journalists who had criticised his leadership. Closson, an African American undergraduate, explained (though he should not have had to): Being in this role and balancing our coverage and the role of this paper on campus with my racial identity and knowing how our paper has historically failed students of colour, and particularly black students, has been incredibly challenging to navigate.
The most experienced and the least experienced journalists make mistakes the former should be judged far more harshly than the latter. But we need to take notice of the altered media environment too, and understand what needs to be flexible and what has to remain unbending in the face of hostility.
The discussions that make us more aware of what impact and consequence means for journalism are healthy and will, it is hoped, make the accountability functions of the modern press a better fit for the current environment.
- Trump wears a mask for first time in front of press pool - CNN - July 12th, 2020
- How Donald Trump's vanity may have doomed his reelection bid - CNN - July 12th, 2020
- John Bolton and Mary Trump Seem to Agree on One Thing: Donald Trump Should Not Be in the White House - Vogue - July 12th, 2020
- The 1 big thing Donald Trump *still* doesn't get about the Supreme Court - CNN - July 12th, 2020
- Donald Trump's base-first strategy is working -- and dooming him - CNN - July 12th, 2020
- Mary Trump's scathing book claims Trump paid someone to take his SATs - CNN - July 12th, 2020
- Collins: Trump is going off on this decision on Twitter - CNN - July 12th, 2020
- Trump turns clock back 155 years with Confederacy-inspired election strategy - CNN - July 12th, 2020
- Trump reveals results from alleged cognitive test - CNN - July 12th, 2020
- Trump invites fear to the party - CNN - July 12th, 2020
- Legal analyst on Stone: 'Our standards have sunk so low' - CNN - July 12th, 2020
- A Theme Park of Donald Trumps Dreams - The New Yorker - July 12th, 2020
- A list of people and things Donald Trump tried to get canceled before he railed against 'cancel culture' - CNN - July 12th, 2020
- Donald Trump Jr. touts the shrinking of Utah's Bears Ears as opening land to public - Salt Lake Tribune - July 12th, 2020
- Here's exactly how detached from reality Donald Trump is on the coronavirus - CNN - July 12th, 2020
- Donald Trump fakes history in order to divide us - Brookings Institution - July 12th, 2020
- Why China Wants Donald Trump to Win - The Atlantic - July 12th, 2020
- She Sounded The Alarm On Donald Trump A Decade Ago. Now, Shes A Cofounder Of The Lincoln Project. - Forbes - July 12th, 2020
- Checkers and Wreckers at the Daytona 500 | dagblog - dagblog - June 24th, 2020
- Bolton's revelations surely the end of Trump? - thedailyblog.co.nz - June 24th, 2020
- Elon Musk is fast becoming the Steve Jobs of today - Nairametrics - June 21st, 2020
- What happened on Santorini when the tourism 'machine' stopped - CNN - June 21st, 2020
- Quarantined in Vietnam: Why I glad I didn't go back to the US - Business Insider - Business Insider - June 21st, 2020
- Trump has walled himself off from America's conversation on racism - CNN - June 7th, 2020
- Anthony Scaramucci: Fed policy created Donald Trump. And it's happening again - CNN - June 7th, 2020
- President Trump: This is a great day for George Floyd - CNN - June 7th, 2020
- An agitated Trump encourages governors to use aggressive tactics on protesters - CNN - June 7th, 2020
- The NFL did the unthinkable: it gave Donald Trump the middle finger - The Guardian - June 7th, 2020
- Donald Trump weakens environmental regulations with new executive order - The Verge - June 7th, 2020
- Donald Trump Is Lost in Space - The New York Times - June 7th, 2020
- The Trump Regime Is Beginning to Topple - The Atlantic - June 7th, 2020
- What is antifa and why is Donald Trump targeting it? - The Guardian - June 7th, 2020
- You Can Get a Photo With Donald Trump for Only $580600 - Mother Jones - June 7th, 2020
- Donald Trump is right that the G7 needs updating. But what for? - The Economist - June 7th, 2020
- Letter: Donald Trump needs to grow up - Northwest Herald - June 7th, 2020
- Donald Trump is one of the worst people on the planet, says ex-USMNT striker Boyd - Goal - June 7th, 2020
- Attack on elder Trump supporter draws attention of Donald Trump Jr. - Fall River Herald News - June 7th, 2020
- Donald Trump Is Celebrating the Wrong Economic Accomplishment - The New Republic - June 7th, 2020
- As Trump gives in to his baser instincts, some cities look for policing changes - CNN - June 7th, 2020
- BET Invites Donald Trump And Joe Biden To Appear In Juneteenth Special - Vibe - June 7th, 2020
- The Reason Donald Trump Will Take a Pill But Not Advice - POLITICO - May 24th, 2020
- Trump news live: Trump visits golf course for second day in a row as coronavirus deaths near 100,000 - The Independent - May 24th, 2020
- Here's what Dr. Deborah Birx had to say about Trump wearing a mask - CNN - May 24th, 2020
- Coronavirus US live: Birx says Trump wears mask when not socially distancing - The Guardian - May 24th, 2020
- No, Donald Trump, Americans are not dying to work work may cause them to die - The Guardian - May 24th, 2020
- The US doctors taking Trumps lead on hydroxychloroquine despite mixed results - The Guardian - May 24th, 2020
- This may be Donald Trump's most damaging legacy - CNN - May 24th, 2020
- Trump can't stop giving the finger to his own government - CNN - May 24th, 2020
- The pandemic could reshape the world order. Trump's chaotic strategy is accelerating US losses - CNN - May 24th, 2020
- Trump threatens to override governors, even though he can't - CNN - May 24th, 2020
- Donald Trumps Never-Ending War on Numbers - The New Republic - May 24th, 2020
- Donald Trumps Only Path To Re-Election Is To Cheat, Michael Moore Tells Real Time With Bill Maher - Deadline - May 24th, 2020
- The Donald Trump Incompetence Dodge - Crooked - May 24th, 2020
- Donald Trump abandons the Open Skies treaty - The Economist - May 24th, 2020
- Just A Rude Person, You Are: Donald Trump Lashes Out At CBS News Paula Reid After She Asks Him, Where Is The Plan? - Deadline - May 24th, 2020
- Trump Thinks He Can Win the Election With Off-the-Rails Memes - Mother Jones - May 24th, 2020
- As the coronavirus crisis hits home, Trump hits the trail - NBC News - May 15th, 2020
- Donald Trump goes maskless to tour medical equipment facility - The Guardian - May 15th, 2020
- From the Justice Department to the Intelligence Community, Donald Trump and William Barr Have Won - The New Yorker - May 15th, 2020
- In Big Win For Trump, New $12 Billion Project To Arrive In America - NDTV - May 15th, 2020
- Former White House physician Ronny Jackson dives headfirst into 'Obamagate' and angers former colleagues - CNN - May 15th, 2020
- Trump's rebuke of Fauci encapsulates rejection of science in virus fight - CNN - May 14th, 2020
- Why Donald Trump's idea that he saved millions of lives is laughable - CNN - May 14th, 2020
- Don't hold your breath on seeing Donald Trump's taxes before the election - CNN - May 14th, 2020
- The Supreme Court will not agree on the president's taxes - The Economist - May 14th, 2020
- Donald Trumps Lifelong Obsession with Comebacks - POLITICO - May 14th, 2020
- Opinion | Why Trump Is Peddling Extra-Strength Conspiracy Theories - POLITICO - May 14th, 2020
- No One Is Worse Than Donald Trump on Climate and War - The Intercept - May 14th, 2020
- Senate Committee Expected To Vote On Donald Trumps Pick To Lead Agency In Charge Of Voice Of America - Deadline - May 14th, 2020
- What Donald Trump can learn from Boris Johnson as coronavirus cases are found in White House - CNN - May 14th, 2020
- Cooper: Trump's testing claim is not and has never been true - CNN - May 14th, 2020
- The one Republican Senate candidate willing to call out Donald Trump - POLITICO - May 14th, 2020
- Donald Trump is proposing attacks on Social Security and seniors; here is what we should do instead | TheHill - The Hill - May 14th, 2020
- Kayleigh McEnany the 'acceptable' face of Trumpism who infuriates liberals - The Guardian - May 14th, 2020
- Donald Trump Is Going to Hate SNL's Season Finale Mother Jones - Mother Jones - May 14th, 2020
- Valet's diagnosis threatens Trump's fantasy - CNN - May 8th, 2020
- Fallout in Trump's Washington as he rejects facts and science - CNN - May 8th, 2020
- Has Trump Reached the Lying-to-Himself-and-Believing-It Stage of the Coronavirus Pandemic? - The New Yorker - May 8th, 2020
- One of Trump's personal valets has tested positive for coronavirus - CNN - May 8th, 2020
- Donald Trump Loves His Father Fred, But He Rarely Mentions His Mother - Vanity Fair - May 8th, 2020