In the four years since I accidentally stumbled my way into journalism, I’ve had to learn plenty of critical lessons. Never assume politicians are telling the whole truth. Always ask more questions. Never hesitate to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable. Always remember who we ultimately answer to (you!).
While I’ve grown accustomed to certain politicians and “political insiders” showing disdain for journalists and their work, I refuse to accept such disdain as “proper” or “justified”. I’ve grown more concerned about President Donald Trump’s continuing attacks on journalists, but I can’t and shouldn’t be taken seriously if I don’t also show concern when one of the Democrats running against him decides to run against journalists.
How I learned to be unbothered by “FAKE NEWS!”… But shouldn’t we still be bothered?
When President Donald Trump comes to town, I’ve become accustomed to the drill: Go to the venue, undergo Secret Service security protocol, and let go of any urge to argue or debate when his supporters pour into the venue and hurl insults at the press pen. Then once Trump takes the stage himself, he hurls his own insults at the press pen as he urges his supporters never to trust anything from the “FAKE NEWS!”
While the crowd at the Republican Jewish Coalition refrained from insulting the journalists in the press pen at their Las Vegas meeting earlier this month, Trump most certainly didn’t. Between his verbal attacks against Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minnesota), Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-New York), and some of the Democrats running against him next year, he managed to spout out some of his classic “FAKE NEWS!” vitriol at the media present in the room.
Btw, there was more. pic.twitter.com/e4reJtY5TE
— Andrew Davey (@atdleft) September 21, 2018
When Trump does that, I try my best to maintain a professional attitude and stick to my work. However, I’d be lying if I told you I’m never affected by it. When Trump was here last September, I watched as one of his fan’s verbal tirades escalated right at the edge of the press pen. I know there are folks across the political spectrum who aren’t fans of American journalists in general, but this is about far more than merely “most Americans don’t trust the media”. No, this points to a far more serious problem. And yes, this problem is much bigger than one politician or one party.
Now, let’s unscrew the cap on this CAP controversy.
During the 2016 election, U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) frequently criticized “establishment Democrats” he claimed were undermining him in order to prop up Hillary Clinton. In January 2016, he even dismissed civil rights organizations Human Rights Campaign (HRC) and Planned Parenthood as “establishment”, despite both groups’ continuing struggles to advance LGBTQ+ equality and protect women’s reproductive health care. Another group Sanders battled was the Center for American Progress (CAP), an organization that was founded by Clinton supporter John Podesta, and an organization that’s currently headed by (then) Clinton supporter Neera Tanden.
CAP happens to house a news site called ThinkProgress, though ThinkProgress maintains editorial independence from CAP, CAP’s funders, and CAP’s partner organizations. Sanders and his campaign should know this, as campaign manager Faiz Shakir was once a ThinkProgress writer himself.
In these early days of the 2020 cycle, ThinkProgress has run articles featuring criticism of fellow U.S. Senators Kamala Harris (D-California), Elizabeth Warren (D-Massachusetts), Cory Booker (D-New Jersey), and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-New York), as well as former Vice President Joe Biden, former Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-Texas), and South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg. Or in other words, ThinkProgress appears to be “keeping it 100” with its readers, just as we always strive to do here at Nevada Today and many other news organizations of various ideological stripes strive to do every day.
Let’s think about the ramifications of these attacks on ThinkProgress.
Here's how the Sanders campaign portrays the Center for American Progress in the new fundraising email (subject line "We are under attack"): pic.twitter.com/q42UPsDWUb
— Gabriel Debenedetti (@gdebenedetti) April 14, 2019
Over the weekend, The New York Times reported on Bernie Sanders’ campaign circulating a letter that accused CAP and Neera Tanden of “maligning my staff and supporters and belittling progressive ideas” after ThinkProgress ran a story on Sanders’ shifting language on “billionaires” amidst his own growing personal wealth. That Times story was soon followed by a fundraising email urging Sanders supporters to “send a message that we are prepared to fight back against those who are working day and night to defeat our movement”, because ThinkProgress covered a story that other media outlets were already covering and ThinkProgress refuses to censor its coverage of any of the Democratic presidential candidates.
Thus far, Sanders has not encouraged violence against journalists or even verbally attacked the media like Trump has. Still, he has criticized “the media establishment” for their coverage of his 2016 campaign, and that criticism takes on a new tone when we sift through the many accounts of Sanders keeping Vermont reporters (even the local, non-profit, “non-establishment” types) “at arm’s length” and criticizing them for running stories that anyone could interpret as critical of him.
A statement from ThinkProgress Editor in Chief Jodi Enda: pic.twitter.com/6Mz2ziBWgw
— ThinkProgress (@thinkprogress) April 14, 2019
Is that happening again now, just on a national scale involving national outlets like ThinkProgress? And for anyone here who thinks I’m writing this for the sake of “drama” or for the purpose of “attacking Bernie”, go back and read the first three paragraphs below the fold. Trump’s ongoing war on journalists troubles me greatly, yet I wouldn’t be ethically or intellectually honest if I were to call out Trump’s actions while ignoring those of Sanders and other Democrats. Free speech and free press are guaranteed constitutional rights, and these rights should be celebrated rather than denigrated. And yes, these rights are denigrated whenever politicians attempt to intimidate journalists into censoring their reporting.
Later today, Sanders will be doing a Fox News town hall to demonstrate how he intends to reach out to Trump voters and right-wing media. While some consider it laudable that Sanders, Buttigieg, and a few other Democrats are making their case on Fox, they should all keep in mind that we in the media have a responsibility: Not to “lift up” their message, promote their cause, or cast them in the most favorable light, but rather to speak the truth and let our readers, viewers, and listeners know what’s really going on and why it’s happening. After all, as a certain Senator from Vermont likes to say: “Not me, us.”