Three hundred newspapers, both large and small, are taking up The Boston Globe's call to push back against President Trump's attacks on the nation's media. Trump's tweets, including one about two weeks ago, again used the words ‘fake news’ and called the media ‘the enemy of the people.’
“They can make anything bad, because they are the fake, fake, disgusting news," Trump said earlier this month while giving a speech at a rally in Wilkes-Barre, PA.
Now the press is about to write what it wants to write. The New York Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer, and major dailies in Dallas, Chicago, Denver, and other cities, they are all answering The Boston Globe's unprecedented call to draft editorials to run in Thursday's paper in a coordinated response to the president.
WGBH News contributor and Northeastern University professor of journalism Dan Kennedy spoke with WGBH's All Things Considered anchor Barbara Howard about this media coordinated editorial effort. This transcript has been edited for clarity.
Barbara Howard: Is it unusual for the so-called mainstream media to insert itself into a story like this?
Dan Kennedy: It is certainly unusual to have this kind of a coordinated effort. News organizations like to compete. They generally don't engage in this type of cooperative, coordinated effort.
Howard: Will this just feed that narrative by Trump supporters that, you know, the media is out to get Trump?
Kennedy: Yes it will. But I think that the calculation here is that we've long since gone past the point that there's anything that the media can do to convince President Trump's staunchest supporters. I would say that since President Trump began running for office a couple of years ago, we've seen a massive decline in media credibility among his supporters. One of his key themes has been to de-legitimize traditional news sources and make himself the source of all truth, and to a rather disturbing degree, he's had success with that.
There was a poll that came out recently that suggested that 43 percent of Republicans believe that the government ought to be able to shut down news organizations that engage in bad behavior whatever that’s supposed to mean.
Howard: Well, you know, one of the news outlets which I think it's not too far fetched to say Trump would consider engaging in bad behavior is the Washington Post. It's been pretty unrelenting in putting out facts about the administration that Trump takes issue with. Washington Post editor Marty Baron, he used to be editor at The Boston Globe, famously he was in charge when the Globe broke the priest scandals.
Now here's Baron talking at an Atlantic magazine event last fall. He was talking about media advocacy:
“We don't view ourselves as part of the resistance. You know, the day after the inauguration the president went to CIA headquarters and he said that he was at war with the media. Well we're not at war. We're at work.”
Howard: 'We're not at war, we're at work,' says Baron. What do you make of that quotation?
Kennedy: I think he's absolutely right. But remember he's speaking for the news side. The editorial side, I don't think that they see themselves as necessarily at war with the Trump administration, but they are able to assert opinion and take a stand in ways that the news pages are really not supposed to do.
Howard: What's the upside and the downside of this coordinated effort that's been put out there by The Boston Globe encouraging papers to take a stand on President Trump's attacks on the media?
Kennedy: Well, I think that the upside that Marjorie Pritchard, the deputy editorial page editor of The Globe, was hoping for when she conceived of this is that this would actually change hearts and minds. I don't think that's really going to happen. But nevertheless I think that there's a huge upside in standing up for journalism and the First Amendment at a time when the president is relentlessly attacking the press and even creating a dangerous situation for many news organizations.
Howard: This is far from the only time that the media has been under attack by leaders, by presidents, I'm thinking of Nixon. He was no fan. Talk about that a bit.
Kennedy: What's funny about it is that Nixon had a sense of shame, and he operated in secret. So for instance, when he was challenging the television licenses held by The Washington Post, this was a big secret. You weren't supposed to know it. President Trump does everything right out in the open — enemy of the American people, fake news, disgusting people. I think that's the difference.
Howard: Okay, well we're going to be watching for these editorials coming out in papers across the country especially in The Boston Globe since they're the ones spearheading this effort to get those editorials out tomorrow. Thanks for coming in, Dan.
Kennedy: Thanks for having me, Barbara.
Howard: That's Dan Kennedy - WGBH News contributor and Northeastern University associate professor of journalism. He's written an opinion piece about this on our website. This is All Things Considered.
This article has been updated.