What Is The White House’s Obligation To Journalism And Journalists When They Are No Longer Behaving As Journalists Nor Abiding by Journalism Ethics?

I know: I’m full of questions lately, and short on answers. I certainly don’t have an answer to this one, and the urgency of finding an answer, and a solution to the underlying crisis, is critical.

Here was Camille Paglia last week describing the state of American journalism:

“It’s obscene. It’s outrageous, OK? It shows that the Democrats are nothing now but words and fantasy and hallucination and Hollywood. There’s no journalism left. What’s happened to The New York Times? What’s happened to the major networks? It’s an outrage. I’m a professor of media studies, in addition to a professor of humanities, OK? And I think it’s absolutely grotesque the way my party has destroyed journalism. Right now, it is going to take decades to recover from this atrocity that’s going on where the news media have turned themselves over to the most childish fraternity, kind of buffoonish behavior.”

(I would link to a non-right wing source, but for some reason the mainstream media didn’t feel Paglia’s assessment was worth reporting. I wonder why?)

Now here was Peggy Noonan, in a Wall Street Journal op-ed:

“Dislike of Mr. Trump within the mainstream media is unalterable,” she wrote. “It permeates every network, from intern to executive producer and CEO. Here is a theory on what they’re thinking: They’re thinking attempts at fairness and balance in this charged atmosphere get them nowhere. They’re attacked by both sides. And anyway they think Mr. Trump is insane. They live on ratings, which determine advertising rates. Hillary Clinton got 2.9 million more votes than Mr. Trump, so the anti-Trump audience is larger.

Hillary Clinton got 2.9 million more votes than Mr. Trump, so the anti-Trump audience is larger. Moreover, people who oppose Mr. Trump tend to be more affluent, more educated, more urban. They’re more liberal, of course, and they’re younger. They’re a desirable demographic. The pro-Trump audience is more rural, more working- and middle-class, older. A particularly heartless media professional might sum them up this way: “Their next big lifestyle choice will be death.”

So, if you are a person who programs or sets the tone of network fare and you want to take a side—you shouldn’t, but you want to!—you throw your lot with the anti-Trump demo, serving them the kind of journalistic approaches and showbiz attitudes they’re likely to enjoy.

Mr. Trump, you are certain, won’t last: He’ll bring himself down or be brought down. You want to be with the winning side. So play to those who hate him, exclude others, call it integrity and reap the profits.”

Both women are substantially right at worst, despite the furious head-shaking you get from journalists, who are either in denial or corrupt, and most progressives and Democrats, who have every reason to deny the phenomenon because 1) they are the beneficiaries of it and 2) they have been leached of all integrity by emotion, arrogance, and bias.

Currently the mainstream news media is having a collective conniption because the White House is increasingly limiting reporter access. The journalists regard this as an ominous effort to constrain the free press, which it would be, except that the “free press” is not conducting itself as honest and trustworthy journalists are obligated to do.

If a lawyer practices law in blatant violation of the ethics rules, he or she doesn’t get to practice law any more. If a doctor breaches the ethical tenets of the medical profession, he or she is barred from treating patients. Journalism styles itself as a profession, meaning that it exists for the public good. Its ethical principles demand fairness, competence, responsible reporting, independence and objectivity. For a long, long time, what we still call “journalism’ for lack of a better name has not met any of these ethical ideals with sufficient consistency, and since the 2016 election, it has openly, shamelessly allied itself with the partisan effort to undermine and destroy the legally elected Presidency of Donald Trump. To do this, the mainstream news media has jettisoned its ethical values, and its right to be trusted by the public. As polls show, the public doesn’t trust them. The public still gives them more trust, out of habit, that they deserve.

For example, here’s a news flash:

On Thursday evening, CNN investigative reporter Thomas Frank published a potentially explosive report involving an investigation of a Russian investment fund with potential ties to several associates of President Donald Trump. But by Friday night, the story was removed from CNN’s website and all links were scrubbed from the network’s social media accounts.“That story did not meet CNN’s editorial standards and has been retracted,” CNN said in an editors note posted in place of the story. “Links to the story have been disabled.”


Now, it is stipulated here that the public must be informed about its government, and that information must be as accurate as possible.  It is also stipulated that governments cannot be trusted to be candid and transparent about themselves. We must have fair, competent reporting.

However, if the journalists we have no longer can be trusted to act like ethical journalists, is it reasonable for any government to give them access to information that it knows will be spun, distorted and manipulated to undermine that government? If every lawyer were untrustworthy, would I entrust my legal problems to of them, or find some other way? If every doctor was a quack, would I be obligated to have one of them operate on my son’s brain tumor?

What is the Trump administration supposed to do? What would you do?

One more stipulation: denying that the problem is real, serious, and demands a solution is not an option.


22 thoughts on “What Is The White House’s Obligation To Journalism And Journalists When They Are No Longer Behaving As Journalists Nor Abiding by Journalism Ethics?

  1. I would do exactly what they are doing. If possible I’d do it more and faster. How many times do you have to give your lunch money to the bully before you quit either carrying lunch money or quit giving it to him?

  2. I can’t think of any answers either. If there were media outlets who strove to be neutral and objective, Trump could prioritize them. But his more likely approach (favoring Fox News) doesn’t inspire confidence.

    This is where a truly objective, neutral media company could come along and seize the big gaping hole in the market. But is there any demand? I’d sign up for OFN (Opinion Free News) in a heartbeat, but I’m not sure such a thing can exist. So I’m left picking facts out of the thorn bushes that are the Leftie and Righty News.

    My theory is that in the Olden Days, when structures and systems weren’t so powerful and individuals were more likely to fight things out among themselves…people had little choice but to cling to moral and ethical absolutes and codes in order to keep the peace and to establish order and enforce good behavior. This led to countless reforms in the West based mainly on Christian ethics. The accountability was internal, taken seriously, and enforced and policed by all of society. If you wrote fake news, you were a dirty hell bound sinner, and you’d be shamed to no end (Rev. 21:8) and so you didn’t lie, even if you personally disagreed with that assessment. That was the mechanism of enforcement. (Consider slavery, an institution central to the British economy and as old as civilization, being wiped out in England and all its territories by people making no economic or pragmatic arguments other than good old fashioned shame at the slaveholders’ betrayal of the Christian faith. That happened. Wouldn’t work today, but it worked then.)

    Over the last few decades, the shared values from those value systems are just…sort of still around, but divorced from their logical reason for existing. Policing is done by institutions and systems, and those systems are trusted because, they’re like, really big and authoritative so they must be trustworthy. We trust the systems and institutions to tell us what is right and what is wrong. Even when a system clearly breaks down (like Evergreen State College), we just assume that it’ll be worked out. After all, they have lots of people and rules and policies and stuff.

    The biggest system, the government, is trusted most of all, which is why there are very few people who actually believe that the U.S. government could ever actually run out of money or collapse. 200+ years of mostly stable rule is all it takes to completely obliterate the idea of the US government ever failing from our imaginations. Seeing it happen in It would be like seeing God fall from the sky dead for most people. Note that Venezuela just dropped dead from socialism, and socialism’s popularity in the States hasn’t declined a bit.

    I’ve heard defenses of the New York Times’ serious missteps that are literally just “It’s THE New York Times! Who would you trust to do it better?”

    • Me, Isaac, ME! I trust my judgement, admitting it is sometimes wrong. Most (but not all) times I trust my wife’s. NEVER do I trust a news organization, be it CNN, Fox, NBC,CBS,ABC or PBS or any other.

      • That is the correct and properly American response. An educated and involved public. Although in today’s climate anyone not obediently “trusting the experts” is going to be thought of as a backwards yokel of some sort, reality notwithstanding.

  3. The Admimistration has a duty to provide the facts and it is generally in their interest to provide commentary ( or ‘spin’). Modern ‘journalists’ generally explain what they think it all means, which is inevitably an opinion and so biased. Facts without explanation ( or ‘opinion’) are generally boring, hard to digest and don’t sell : “the budget deficit is X” or “the US airforce shot down a Syrian airforce plane over Syria”. The public (should) have a wide choice of reporting and can decide whose opinions they want to hear. I recommend accessing a range of openly biased reports and being highly suspicious of anyone declaring themselves ‘unbiased’. The Administration refusing to release the facts is outrageous. As it would be if a public company refused to release its accounts to analysts. The overall weight of professional opinion has some significance, as when practically all analysts tell us that company X’s latest results show X to be failing.

    • Good comment, Andrew.

      Given that the White House is just as, if not more, dishonest than any of the news networks it has taken an adversarial stance toward, I do not understand this idea that their hostility to the media is warranted. It has no moral high ground here. How should the White House respond to a dishonest media? By being honest. Instead, it doubles down on lack of transparency and hostility.

      • Incredibly naive and confused analysis. The Presidency is an elected position. You ca have the IQ of a sponge, the morals of a viper, and the knowledge of a tet Rock, but if you are elected, you are 100% qualified for the job. Trump is President and must be treated as President no matter what he does or says, withing Constitutional limits.

        Journalists have specific ethical duties. If they do not follow them, they are not journalists. Your reasoning is fatally flawed, and you have made this basic mistake before. If I am a rotten person, an unethical doctor still has no greater right to engage in malpractice on me. The President’s duty is to lead the country, and empowering an untrustworthy news media is not in the nation’s best interest. He needs no moral authority to find non-journalist journalists unfit to report on his administration. Leaders can and do occasionally have to lie to lead effectively. They hide facts, they engage in deceit, they obfuscate. Journalists cannot and may not, and still be journalists, Leaders are partisans and engage in politics. Reporters may not: they are obligated to be objective. Trump is still President if he lies; journalists are not journalists if they lie, and Trump has as much authority to sate that fact and act on it as anyone else.

        Good Lord, this ethics 101: Individual A’s conduct does not mitigate B’s conduct, and that’s when both A and B have the same duties, credentials and authority. In this case, you are saying that because a President—which is a job, not a profession–doesn’t meet journalism ethics standards—which Trump certainly does not, BUT HE’S NOT A REPORTER, so that’s interesting but not material—than JOURNALISTS who MUST meet those standards are somehow relived of their professional obligations.

        Andrew is, I fear, hopeless. You’re not. Don’t get distracted.

        • In this case, you are saying that because a President—which is a job, not a profession–doesn’t meet journalism ethics standards—which Trump certainly does not, BUT HE’S NOT A REPORTER, so that’s interesting but not material—than JOURNALISTS who MUST meet those standards are somehow relived of their professional obligations.

          No, that’s not even close to what I’m saying. I’m saying Trump is ethically estopped from complaining about or criticizing the media for dishonesty.

          I never said Trump “doesn’t meet journalistic ethics standards.” He doesn’t meet *any* ethical standards of honesty, as you know. And everyone, including the president, has an ethical duty to be honest.

          • “Trump is ethically estopped from complaining about or criticizing the media for dishonesty.”

            Not the question at hand. I’m saying that when plumbers prove they are fake plumbers, they have no right to demand you use them as plumbers, and you are a fool to do so. You’re saying, but he’s a fake electrician! He has no right to complain about fake plumbers! Who said anything about complaining? He may be a hypocrite to complain, but it doesn’t change the justification for refusing to use fake plumbers.

            • Hm. It’s more like…getting mad because your plumber says you need a whole new sink, when actually there is quite a bit wrong with it but the sink itself is salvageable, and you want only plumbers who will tell you there is absolutely nothing wrong with your sink, it is the best sink, and everyone is talking about how great the sink is and it’s just terrific.

              The plumber who says you need a new sink is exaggerating the problem for his own gain, but there are still tons of problems, and refusing to allow any plumbers at all to work on it–or only allowing the plumbers who tell you there’s nothing wrong with it–is worse than just letting the greedy and dishonest plumber replace your sink.

  4. 1) Immediately block all of the current generation media networks while giving concrete examples of ethics breaches in their reporting
    2) Only allow them back in if they provide an abject admission of bias, an apology, and conduct a minimum of one year without unethical reporting
    3) In the mean time give a new generation of media networks a chance (i.e. lesser known papers with good reputations) at the coveted White House media spots.
    4) Find someone that the public deems trustworthy to manage it all – a journalistic Mattis type, or a collection of respected higher court judges

    The sharp reprimand with specific examples for the old networks will make them look bad and cost them money as the new networks use their access and prestige to build their coffers and audience. The ability to regain access after taking some well-earned egg to the face will incentivise them not to go full bridge burning. The trustworthy management will remove the stink of a political cull and add goodwill to the effort that will weaken the old network’s claims of bias in the process.

    Of course, no plan survives contact with the enemy and it likely wouldn’t go over as smooth as all that, but a good plan executed half-well is still better than the status quo.

      • Article 2, Section 4 :
        ” The President, Vice President and all civil officers of the United States, shall be removed from office on impeachment for, and conviction of, treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors.”

        Conviction is not perfectly correlated with guilt. A president can commit treason, but as long as they’re not convicted, remain in office. A president may be convicted on party lines and removed despite being innocent too.

        I repeat my question – are there any ethcal standards that must be complied with?

        • Sue wrote, “Conviction is not perfectly correlated with guilt.”

          You’re phishing for someone to answer no based on the way you think, so here you go; NO Sue, there are no ethical standards that the President must legally comply with. Socially and politically is an entirely different story.

          There Sue, are you satisfied?

          Question Sue, do you think that “conviction is not perfectly correlated with guilt” in all cases. If no one ever “guilty” and no one ever “innocent”; what is the purpose of our judicial system, is it just to place blame on random human beings?

  5. Personally I could care less about the bias. I tend to read across a broad spectrum of input to sort of pick what seems to be a running similarity and then think maybe there is a kernel of truth in there somewhere. I might even do a bunch of Googling before I put it away as possible fact. It’s not that I don’t care about the bias, it’s just that I don’t think that me hemming and hawing about it will change it.
    I think the issue is that it’s not the investigative side of news that makes news. It’s the pretty/handsome talking head that delivers the news. It’s how much leg can we seen on Megyn Kelly. I made the mistake of watching The Young Turks the other day and I really think all they do it parrot what they are seeing broadcast by “News” outlets and then put their take on it. What they are doing is providing an echo chambers for their followers.
    My local newspaper “The Miami Herald” is all but defunct. It’s spitting out barely anything each week. “The Miami Herald” used to be a revered source of News. When doing research it would always amaze me of the places the Herald had a presence, world wide.
    It’s not the job of the people making the news to tell the truth or to give the reporters the facts. It’s the reporters job to glean the facts how ever they do that (probably a lot of leg work) and then report them. I think that somewhere in there an editor has to make sure that stuff is printable. I’m not journalist but I think that’s how it goes. I think there used to be a pride in finding a story and then getting to the bottom of that story.
    Anyway, I think that people have just gotten lazy. The reporters, the editors and the people listening to and following the news all want to just lean back and look at their crap top and have it fed to them. It amazes me that there isn’t more disinformation put out there than I think there is. It seems so easy because the MSM won’t do the work required to verify much and want it to be a certain way so badly that they’ll jump on anything that is fed to them. I wonder how many reporters understand the concept of disinformation.
    I think the ethics violation that is an umbrella for present day journalism is the violation of the ethics of hard work. Not many want to do hard work anymore. The jesters are running the courts.

  6. The question is, “What Is The White House’s Obligation To Journalism And Journalists When They Are No Longer Behaving As Journalists Nor Abiding by Journalism Ethics?”

    Personally I think the only real “obligation” to the press is to give daily press briefings containing the President’s schedule and other things that the White House chooses to tell them; anything beyond that is not an “obligation”. I think the White house needs to walk away from the podium after delivering the briefings and cease to answer anymore questions from the press and that should apply to the entire White House staff right down to the people emptying the trash cans. Tell the press ahead of time that that is what’s going to happen; the White House doesn’t need give the press any reasons, the press will twist anything they say to absurd levels of anti-Trump propaganda anyway, just tell them what’s going to happen and do it.

    Also, please get Trump off of Twitter!

    • The White House could also tell the press that no questions outside of clarification of what’s presented in the briefing will be answered and if they repetitively have to tell specific reporters that their question(s) won’t be answered because it falls outside the data presented int he briefing then they can simply stop taking any questions from that/those reporter(s).

      The press doesn’t dictate what information comes out of the White House nor what questions must be answered; the White House needs to set their own rules regarding the press and stick with them.

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