Many in the on-line pundit community feel that the Boston Globe’s use of a fake future news front page to attack Donald Trump was bad practice and a slippery slope not to be ventured upon by serious news outlets. They are correct.
Trump hate runs high in mainstream media-land, however, and the ethics alarms there sound softly if at all. I just witnessed that most biased and smug of TV anchors, CNN’s Carol Costello, furiously spinning for the Globe, because the foundering ship of untrustworthy journalism feels that the crew must pull together, or something.
Though Costello’s colleague Brian Stelter had sort of criticized the the fake front page saying that it “resembles an April Fools Day prank by a college newspaper — but is bound to get a lot more attention,” Costello was in full defense mode. She began by mischaracterizing where the objections to the Globe’s stunt were coming from, citing only Trump himself as the critic—and we all know how crazy he is, right? Costello played a clip of Trump registering his objections—mostly reasonable and fair, by the way—as Costello gave her audience her trademark “Can you believe this idiot?” smirk, which she flashes virtually any time a conservative or Republican is saying anything. She then repeated portions of the Globe’s defenders’ talking points, and brought on the Globe’s Sunday Ideas Editor Katie Kingsbury to give its own, as if Trump owned the only two hands not applauding. What was offered was a series of rationalizations:
1. The Golden Rationalization, or “Everybody does it,” citing “other newspapers” like “The Atlantic,” which isn’t a newspaper
2. 13. The Saint’s Excuse: “It’s for a good cause,” because apparently Trump is so bad that it justifies throughing all previous standards and ethical principles (like “Don’t print fake news”) out the window
3. #24. Juror 3’s Stand (“It’s My Right!”), which is the news media’s default argument any time it is irresponsible,
4. 28. The Revolutionary’s Excuse: “These are not ordinary times.”
5. 34. Success Immunity, or “They must be doing something right!” Hey, it got everyone talking, and isn’t that a good thing?
6. 39. The Pioneer’s Lament, or “Why should I be the first?” The Globe defenders claim that other news media that pulled similar stunts weren’t attacked with such intensity, which is a lie: no major paper ever published a fake future news page aimed at a Presidential candidate, using not satire but completely matter-of-fact, false, news stories.
The conclusion of the CNN spot was mutual, head-nodding, smiling agreement from Costello and the Globe’s editor that this is just a case of people being hyper-critical and mean to the wonderful, objective news media, and that the Globe is as pure as the driven snow, as wise as the Buddha, and as ethical as Edward R. Murrow. Thus we can assume that CNN will soon broadcast a fake documentary, “The Trump Presidency” as a public service. because, “Hey, the Globe did it!”
One feature of an ethical profession is objective self-policing. The Globe’s use of manufactured “news stories” to attack a candidate should have been roundly condemned within the profession. Instead, journalists are proving how corrupted their profession is by either ignoring the breach of ethics or, like Costello, defending it, if they do not work for conservative outlets or competitors of the Globe. (The Boston Herald, for example, has been very critical.)
The sharpest criticism (other than mine) has come from the rightward blogosphere, thus further fracturing perceptions of right and wrong into partisan perceptions of truth. Writes conservative blogger Ed Driscoll in part:
In a 1974 episode of the Mary Tyler Moore Show on CBS, Mary, working late one night with Rhoda goading her on, writes a joke obit for Minneapolis’ oldest man – and Ted reads their obit on the air when, of course, the man dies soon afterwards. Lou threatens to suspend Mary, reminding her that “the news is sacred.” …Flash-forward to the 21st century, when any pretense that “the news is sacred” has long gone out the window, as the MSM are all but official Democratic Party operatives with bylines. In September of 2004, Cronkite’s successor Dan Rather lied about George W. Bush’s Texas Air National Guard record, and fellow anchormen Tom Brokaw and Peter Jennings eagerly defended him in the last month of the presidential election….So no one should be surprised to see the Boston Globe, owned until 2013 by the New York Times, which invented the phrase “fake but accurate” in 2004 running fake news as a front page headline.
Here, a bit less agitated, is Newsbusters’ Tim Graham:
“Can anyone imagine the outrage that liberal media pundits would have had if say, The New York Post or The Washington Times had created a fake page predicting that President Obama would force people off the insurance they wanted to keep, and food stamp use would soar by 70 percent? Imagine those complaints and transfer them to this: A serious newspaper doesn’t satirize the news. It leaves it to The Onion.”