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Hundreds Of Newspapers Denounce Trump's Attacks On Media In Coordinated Editorials

The Boston Globe's logo as seen through the windows across from the new location of the Globe in Boston. The paper's editors coordinated a campaign defending a free press in editorials.
Joseph Prezioso AFP/Getty Images
The Boston Globe's logo as seen through the windows across from the new location of the Globe in Boston. The paper's editors coordinated a campaign defending a free press in editorials.
Hundreds Of Newspapers Denounce Trump's Attacks On Media In Coordinated Editorials
Hundreds Of Newspapers Denounce Trump's Attacks On Media In Coordinated Editorials GUEST: Matt Hall, editorial and opinion director, San Diego Union-Tribune

Their only agenda is the truce. That's a line from a San Diego Union Tribune editorial today talking about the nation's journalists and pushing back on President Trump said attacks on the press. The he joined with some 350 other papers across the country in an effort suggested by the Boston Globe the editorials explaining how journalists work and pointing out the stories they bring to light are meant as a rebuke to President Trumps claims of fake news. Meanwhile this morning in response to the newspaper editorials the president tweeted quote the fake news media is the opposition party unquote. Joining me is editorial and opinion director for the San Diego Union Tribune MATT HALL And Matt welcome to the show. Thanks for having me Maureen. What's your understanding of the purpose behind this effort. It's not simply to get back at the president is it. No I wouldn't characterize it that way at all. I would say that different editorial boards had different reasons for writing editorials today or not writing editorials today as you saw some major newspapers The Washington Post The L.A. Times San Francisco Chronicle did not write editorials and explained why for us we asked ourselves the question Should we write this. Should we write it on this day. And who's our audience for this. I think that's an important question the editorial board needed to ask our audience is not one person it's not the president of the United States. Even though his rhetoric is what caused 350 newspaper editorial boards to think through their thoughts and put them on paper in bits and bytes today you know our audience is our readers and our potential readers we want San Diego ins and those interested in San Diego to know that a free and fair press is crucial to democracy to communities like ours to the future and that we do good work every day. Yes we make mistakes we own them. We address them. We acknowledge and correct them and we move on and keep doing the great work that we do and that is not fake news. That term has kind of been you know manipulated and used as a weapon for far too long and the president's rhetoric has kept ticking up to the point where now not only his supporters but other politicians here in San Diego County and elsewhere use the term to kind of sidestep questions about their misdeeds or alleged misdeeds. And I think it's time for media members to say a free press is an invaluable part of society and to take a stand and today was that stand. What efforts of San Diego journalists did you highlight in your editorial. We talked about the hepatitis A outbreak particularly because that one was so top of mind for so long. It was such a kind of crazy story where you had a lot of politicians whose bureaucratic bungling and lapses in judgment and decision making went on for a long time and would have continued to go on were it not for local journalists at a number of outlets. Now that's what journalism does journalism holds the powerful accountable and empowers the powerless so that was a perfect anecdote for why the news media is real and necessary. Now some papers as you mentioned Washington Post San Francisco Chronicle etc. said they were not participating in this mass editorial effort because well they said they wanted to preserve their independence and also they suggested efforts like this can play into the president's hands. Do you think they have a point. They clearly have the point. And our editorial board was not all in. From day one on doing this we got the request from Marjorie Pritchard the deputy editorial page editor at The Boston Globe on Wednesday morning and for several days last week had discussions about whether and what to say. I pretty quickly came around to the idea that we needed to do it because my driving philosophy as editorial and opinion director has been if there's a conversation happening we want to be in that conversation and we want to be talking about those issues and listening to what other people are saying. So for me the question of what you know my colleagues in San Francisco John Diaz and in Los Angeles Nick Goldberg the way that their columns about their reasons not to do this. They explained that they wanted independent authority they wanted to know that they could write editorials whenever they wanted to write editorials that it was their schedule on their calendar that would dictate that I don't mind knowing and acknowledging that this is a coordinated effort and letting our readers know though that this was again individual journalists choosing individual words and trying to send a message of their own to an audience of their own. So I think that if you acknowledge that this is a coordinated effort there's a power to that. There is also a peril to that. And what we tried to do was once we decided to write this editorial to acknowledge that head on. But to say even so it was worth the risk to let you dear reader dear listener dear viewer know that what we do every day is try to get it right . Now you include the phrase in your editorial quote Even if sudden violence stuns are industry unquote. Is that a reference to the shooting at the Capitol Gazette in Maryland. And if so do you think President Trumps attacks on the press can take some of the blame for that event. I'm not sure that you can link Trump's attacks on the press to that shooting in Annapolis. And to be clear that reference that line was not a reference to Annapolis. I probably could have been clearer there. It was a reference to potential future incidents. That line followed shortly thereafter one in which I quoted a Quinnipiac University poll that just came out a couple days ago that showed pretty stunningly that 44 percent of people responding to that poll believe that the president's words may incite violence that's inflicted on members of the news media. Now that's pretty stunning. You know people get up and do their jobs every day and don't expect it to not come home and be able to hug their spouse or see their kids. I'm not saying that his rhetoric is going to lead to that. But Bret Stephens in the New York Times had a pretty interesting column about a week ago that the president may have blood on his hands if this happens because the rhetoric is escalating to unseen heights. Like you said just today he tripled down quadruple down and use the phrase opposition party. You know this is not about politics. You had boards who see themselves on the conservative side boards who see themselves on the liberal side weighing in today because this is a defense of the work that we do every day more so than an attack on a president's policies. Now this week the San Diego Union Tribune added a page to its Web site that explains how journalists at the paper do their work. What can people find on that page. Thank you for bringing that up and I also encourage your listeners to look for that. It's Estey Utica U.S. slash what we do. That page is crucial that page hopefully will be remembered long after this editorial is forgotten because that page is going to live on our Web site every day. And what it explains is how we do our job. Journalist maybe we didn't think the public would care. But you know what the public should care and they should demand of their media outlets. How do you do your job. Because then that helps restore trust. And at the very least it is an explanation of what we do and we're in the explanation business. But I think to long for for far too long we haven't really explained what we do ourselves. That's kind of ironic. And it's about to change. I've been speaking with editorial and opinion director for the San Diego Union Tribune. MATT HALL Matt thank you. Thank you Maureen.

Updated at 10:04 a.m. ET

More than 300 news publications across the country are joining together to defend the role of a free press and denounce President Trump's ongoing attacks on the news media in coordinated editorials publishing Thursday, according to a tally by The Boston Globe.

The project was spearheaded by staff members of the editorial page at the Globe, who write: "This relentless assault on the free press has dangerous consequences. We asked editorial boards from around the country – liberal and conservative, large and small — to join us today to address this fundamental threat in their own words."

Marjorie Pritchard, the Globe's deputy managing editor of the editorial page who led the effort, told NPR's Morning Edition, "This editorial project is not against the Trump administration's agenda. It's a response to put us into the public discourse and defend the First Amendment."

She said the reason to publish the editorials now was "because the press needs to have a voice on this. ... We've done individual editorials, but I think it's, there is some strength in numbers of just defending a constitutionally enshrined pillar of democracy."

Editorials are typically written by opinion writers and are considered separate from organizations' news coverage. NPR, for example, has a separate "opinion" category. But unlike many media outlets, NPR does not have an editorial board, and did not take part in Thursday's coordinated effort.

In a column called "A Free Press Needs You," The New York Times' editorial board writes that "Criticizing the news media — for underplaying or overplaying stories, for getting something wrong — is entirely right. News reporters and editors are human, and make mistakes. Correcting them is core to our job. But insisting that truths you don't like are 'fake news' is dangerous to the lifeblood of democracy. And calling journalists the 'enemy of the people' is dangerous, period."

Small publications across the country participated as well.

Charlie Smith of The Columbian-Progress of Columbia, Miss., wrote that newspapers "are the ultimate friend of the people. To attack them is to attack our own selves."

"Americans may not like the news they see or hear but they should not hold that against those who report it," TriCorner News from The Lakeville Journal Co. in Lakeville, Conn., writes. "In short, don't shoot the messenger."

Other newspapers supported the mission but declined to take part. The San Francisco Chronicle's editorial page editor, John Diaz, pointed to previous editorials in the paper denouncing attacks on the press, but said "answering a call to join the crowd, no matter how worthy the cause, is not the same as an institution deciding on its own to raise a matter."

The Slidell Independent in Slidell, La., participated in the coordinated editorial — to criticize the endeavor and defend the president. "The national media still doesn't know what to do with President Trump, so now they are crying to the American people about the names they have been called," the paper wrote. "Maybe if they focused on doing their jobs instead of worrying about their precious reputation the American people might start getting real, honest journalism again."

Jack Shafer argues in Politico that the current effort "is sure to backfire."

"It will provide Trump with circumstantial evidence of the existence of a national press cabal that has been convened solely to oppose him. When the editorials roll off the press on Thursday, all singing from the same script, Trump will reap enough fresh material to whale on the media for at least a month."

Trump has made bashing the news media — "horrible, horrendous people" — a staple of his candidacy and a constant throughout his presidency. He has tweeted at least seven times since June referring to the news media in some way as the "enemy of the people."

On Thursday morning, the president returned to the topic. "THE FAKE NEWS MEDIA IS THE OPPOSITION PARTY," Trump wrote on Twitter, adding that it is "pushing a political agenda or just plain trying to hurt people."

In a poll released Tuesday by Quinnipiac University, a slim majority of Republican respondents, 51 percent, said they consider the news media the "enemy of the people." Thirty-six percent of Republicans thought the media were "an important part of democracy."

The question asked, "Which comes closer to your point of view: the news media is the enemy of the people, or the news media is an important part of democracy?" Overall, 65 percent of U.S. voters say the media are an important part of democracy, according to Quinnipiac.

The poll asked respondents if they were concerned that the president's attacks would lead to violence against people who work in media. Fifty-two percent of respondents said they were not concerned, while 44 percent said they were.

Some reporters themselves have said they increasingly feel at risk of violence.

" 'I hope you get raped and killed,' one person wrote to me just this week," MSNBC's Katy Tur said on air recently. " 'Raped and killed.' Not just me, but a couple of my female colleagues as well." She added that the letter ended with "MAGA," short for Trump's slogan, "Make America Great Again."

Earlier this month, CNN's Jim Acosta urged White House press secretary Sarah Sanders to say the news media are not the enemy, which she would not do.

Acosta tweeted a video on July 31 that he said was from a Trump rally, featuring Trump supporters giving the middle finger to the camera and one person yelling, "stop lying."

Some reporters say they're receiving heightened security measures when covering Trump rallies, according to Politico, though many news outlets don't comment publicly about such matters.

Thirty-one journalists in the U.S. have been attacked so far in 2018, according to the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker. In June, five employees were killed in the Capital Gazette newsroom in Annapolis, Md. A man who had a longstanding grudge with the publication has been charged with multiple counts of murder.

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