You Don’t Have to Publish Both Sides When One Side Is Fascism

From The Nation:

Elite media still hasn’t figured out how to cover the Trump presidency.

The Trump administration and its Republican enablers are fighting a series of wars directed at targets inside the United States. A partial list would include immigrants, African Americans, Jews, poor people, middle-class people, people with student loan debts, the environment, voting rights, fair elections, blue-state taxpayers, the rule of law, honest elections, and all forms of accountability for Donald Trump, his family, and the criminals who helped him get elected. Because these are by and large unpopular causes, and it is the job of the press to let the public know what is going on, journalists are also a necessary, if ancillary, target. That explains Trump’s frequent use of the phrase “enemies of the people,” which had been the go-to charge of dictators and mass murderers, as well as his incessantly parroted mantra “fake news.”

Those running the country’s elite media institutions have no experience with a situation like this and still cannot figure out how to handle it. Historically, media machers have seen themselves as collaborators with government officials to ensure that things run smoothly for whoever is in power. They do this, in part, because they believe in the cause and, in part, to obtain access, quotes, and the public pretense of respect. When James Reston, who was then The New York Times’ most influential columnist, published an op-ed in 1979 titled “By Henry Kissinger With James Reston,” he did so not with shame but pride.

Reston was flacking for a man who directed a secret, unconstitutional war in Cambodia and Laos and illegally wiretapped journalists and the members of his own staff to determine who leaked the news to Reston’s paper. US government officials, especially but not exclusively Republicans, have been lying to the American people about matters of life and death for a long time. The mainstream media eventually righted itself under President Richard Nixon’s assault on our democratic institutions, but its ability to do so today under Trump, an even greater threat to American democracy, is considerably diminished. The reasons for this are complex. Some are economic, others technological. But during the present crisis, the biggest problem is that the leaders of the mainstream media cannot make up their minds about the fundamental question of the Trump presidency: “Which side are you on?”

The top editors of almost all of America’s mainstream media institutions have explicitly rejected the notion of a journalism of opposition. While The New York Times and The Washington Post, for instance, have tallied Trump’s untruths—separate from the articles in which they are repeated verbatim—neither has proved willing to reconsider its commitment to the mindless both-sides style of reporting in which Republican lies and incitements to fascist violence are given equal weight to Democratic attempts to tell the truth and defend democracy.

Thanks to Trump’s response to the protests against police brutality, however, the jig is up. Military leaders past and present and even a few Republicans have had enough. It is not OK for Trump to demand a military attack on our own citizens and then lie about having done so. And yet at this moment, New York Times opinion editors offered American journalism’s most prestigious real estate to Senator Tom Cotton to make the case for Trump’s proposed assault.

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