Two days ago , I posted the following comment on Facebook --
It turns out, I wasn't alone in that thought. Yesterday, Bill Sternberg took USA Today to task for the editorial. And who is Bill Sternberg, I hear you ask? He's the political editor of...USA Today!!
Among the many things he wrote were, "Several of Navarro’s criticisms of Fauci — on the China travel restrictions, the risk from the coronavirus and falling mortality rates — were misleading or lacked context. As such, Navarro’s op-ed did not meet USA Today’s fact-checking standards.”
My immediate reaction was, "Hey, ya think???!!"
My second reaction was that Mr. Sternberg was being polite, but didn't go nearly far enough. I do understand that as USA Today's own political editor there are probably limits about how far he could go in his criticism, but the larger point to me isn't that Peter Navarro's op-ed did not meet the paper's "fact-checking standards," but rather that Peter Navarro has a terrible record for honesty, so he shouldn't have been given a platform in the first place.
Yes, good for USA Today for following up later with such an acknowledgement. It's rarely done, and it's deserving of some credit. But "some credit" only covers a very small part of the whole. Think of it somewhat like if a circus let a lion wander loose among the crowd and it goes on a rampage, and they post a notice the next day explaining all the reasons it was a bad idea. It's not a perfect analogy, but it's close enough. Sometimes, you should know better and not put yourself in a position where you'll likely have to apologize after.
Same too with the recent disaster at the New York Times with their op-ed from Sen. Tom Cotton. Yes, they did a mea culpa after, but these aren't one-person gaffes, but go through multi-level approvals, and they should all know better. And they do know better.
I'm well-aware that it's important to get the views of the current administration. But the credibility of this administration disappeared long ago, and I'm sure that USA Today is well-aware of that, so vigilance is critical, especially with an election just months away.
And that's the larger point here. This administration has been in office for 3-1/2 years. Their list of deceptions and lies during that time are well-documented. The Washington Post has collected a list of now over 20,000 lies by Trump during his time in office alone. Their spokespeople go out on TV shows and repeatedly lie to the point that real-time fact-checking has become a new journalism requirement. We are in the middle of a pandemic in which 141,118 Americans have died, and the White House seems oblivious.. Just yesterday, the White House press secretary said, :Science should not stand in the way" of schools reopening. (The comment denigrating science at any time, but especially during a pandemic and most-especially about the health of children is bad enough -- but when you realize her disparagement of science was in the very same sentence as talking about the importance of school makes it ethereally galling in a ghastly way -- and makes you wonder what on earth she thinks they should be teaching. Perhaps alternative facts, like the airports Trumps said existed during the Revolutionary War.) About 48 million Americans have applied for unemployment. Russia has put bounties on the lives of American soldiers, and the White House has not acted. National movements to change social justice have broken out across the country, and the White House.defends the Confederate Flag and the statues of Confederate generals. Trump sends out the National Guard, helicopters and chemical spray against American citizens at peaceful rallies.
And the best USA Today can do is -- after-the-fact -- say that they should have fact-checked better. Yes, they should have. And good of them to realize that and say so. But it doesn't let them off the hook for not realizing they shouldn't have given a national platform to the Peter Navarros of the world in the first place.
And that's the point. This isn't about USA Today. It's about all news media accepting that Trump is Trump and that he's not "finally becoming presidential" at this point. And by "at this point," I define that as -- ever. Ever. We know who he is. He tells us every time he opens his mouth or types a tweet. This is about recognizing the realities of the world when your job is the news. The job is to be fair and honest and objective and detailed. It is not to be a red carpet for those spewing fascist, deceptive PR propaganda and think that makes you balanced and fair. It makes you a dupe. It makes you complicit, even if unintentionally.
And for those in journalism who haven't figured out the subtleties of all this yet, here's a hint that might help: Trump and his administration call the media "the enemy of the people." They are not going for fair and honest and objective and detailed. So, it's up to you.
No, really. Honest.
Still, at least we did learn from the White House yesterday that the country has less-restrictive water regulations for dishwashers. Which is a good thing!
Unless you're in one of those many states with a drought. Which Trump thinks is a hoax. And which he made the United States the only country in the entire world that is literally not in the Paris Accord on Climate Change.
"Were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter."
-- Thomas Jefferson
And Jefferson hadn't even hear of Trump.