My hometown paper, the Boston Globe, took the lead in the recent cooperative effort on the part of hundreds of papers nationwide to run editorials slamming Trump for his comments about the press.
I think the Globe can and should write what it wants. I also think it is fine if the Globe wants to organize a nationwide anti-Trump set of editorials. You can call it collusion if you want a laugh, and there is some truth to that charge. But hey it’s a free country and we have a free press.
But the idea that the Globe, and the mainstream press generally, have any moral high ground here is ludicrous. I have in my somewhat long lifetime never seen anything like the low shenanigans on the part of the mainstream press in the last couple of years.
Now, I don’t like Trump’s turn of phrase “the enemy of the people.” It does have a bit of “l’etat c’est moi” about it that is unseemly. But keep in mind that for the most part Trump has reserved his harshest words for the parts of the press that in his view dispense “fake news.” That is to say: his enemies.
And there is no question the mainstream press is the enemy of Trump. Whether it is the enemy of the people is a harder question to answer–though I hardly think the idea is out of the question. Let us see how far FISAgate, FBIgate, Uraniumgate and all the related Gates go, and let us see how complicit the press has been in bad actions, before we draw a firm conclusion on whether it has operated in bad faith relative to the public trust it alleges to uphold.
How well the Globe upholds the public trust is no doubt a long and complicated question, and the drama is not yet over. But we can get some hints of how well it does simply by asking whether, how, and how well it has opted to cover what appear to me to be important stories.
The Sarah Jeong story has been huge. It was among other things one of the key stories analyzed by the WGBH press hounds on the weekly show Beat the Press. Of course it was a story. It has been in fact a huge story, one that the press was obliged to cover because of its importance, and the fact that it deals directly with possible bias in decisions by the press itself.
As of the date this post went up online the Boston Globe archives include nothing about Sarah Jeong’s hiring at the Times. Not one word.
Then there’s the recent charge that Keith Ellison abused an ex-girlfriend. The Globe loves the #metoo angle so you might think the story would be well and regularly reported on. It is elsewhere, in many reputable outlets.
What do we find? Hey look! The Globe actually ran an article, one. Here it is.
Anything worth noting here?
First, there is only one article in the archives and it briefly covers Ellison’s denial. Apparently the Globe did not find the charges sufficiently newsworthy to cover them as a news item, preferring to wait for Ellison to issue a denial, which becomes the lede in a short, throwaway, article. No follow up.
Second, note that there are only 11 comments. Does that not seem like a small number of comments about such a large news item, even in progressive Boston? Why yes it does. Why might this be the case?
So I took a look at the Boston Globe e-paper, a digital recreation of the actual page-by-page in the Globe on both August 13 (the day of the breaking news) and August 14 (the following day.)
Neither paper includes a story about Ellison. Tentative conclusion: the Globe ran the story as breaking news online but did not actually include it in the papers that were circulated in print form.
How about the Rotherham grooming gangs scandal? That hit the presses in late 2014 and early 2015 and sure enough the story was covered by the Globe. But it was only covered in five stories in 2014 and 2015, with one emphasizing the “uncomfortable focus on race and ethnicity.”
As the Rotherham story metastasized in the years since the initial breaking of the story into a shameful scandal of huge significance the Globe has not seen fit to mention it one more time. Moreover, the search term “grooming” in the Globe archive returns some ads and stories about pet care but “grooming gangs” only returns that one 2015 story fretting about the uncomfortable focus on race and ethnicity. Grooming gangs? Down the memory hole.
This is the paper that purports to hold the moral high ground, and feels it has a right to get all sanctimonious about how the press is always there to protect the people. Balderdash.
The Constitution calls for freedom of the press and freedom of the press we shall have. But just at the system envisioned by the Constitution presupposes virtue with respect to the three defined branches of government virtue is an indispensable prerequisite for the Fourth Estate as well. The Globe lacks sufficient virtue to make the case that it is making about press freedom. It is in the tank, and whether or not that rises to the level of being an enemy of the people remains to be seen.