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Updated: Aug 21, 2020

June 21, 2020

“President Trump has led the way on groundbreaking criminal justice reform, taking a smart-on-crime approach to make our communities safer!”

That’s a direct quote from the White House website, … well, OK, the exclamation point is mine.

On Tuesday Trump added to this claim (led the way? Really?) in reference to the executive order he signed this week. It’s intended to require that police “implement best practices and protect the communities they serve,” both of which we would have loved to see them do without an executive order.

President Obama and Vice President Biden “never even tried to fix this during their eight-year period,” our current President declared to news media. “The reason they didn’t try is because they had no idea how to do it.”

Of course none of that is true. The Obama administration took action to reform police practice, and then the Trump administration came in and swept it away. You know, like the pandemic preparedness plan Obama left him.

By yesterday numerous news services and fact-checking bureaus had refuted Trump’s I’m-here-to-save-the-day boast, among them NBC News, CNN, and of course our friends at, an organization that has been kept busier than ever in its history since June 16, 2015, the day Donald Trump announced his candidacy for President.

Or should we set January 20, 2017 as the date? On that Friday, America’s new commander in chief surely set a national record by including at least eight lies in his inaugural address. Memorably, he later went on to brag that the “massive” crowd at his ceremony stretched “all the way back down to the Washington Monument,” something every photograph of the event disproved.

It is typical, yet still astounding, that the Trump White House continues to say what it says every day, no matter what facts, numbers or proof contradict him.

And somehow he has managed to convince a sizable portion of the population that he (and Fox “News”) are telling the truth, whereas every person or news outlet that cries foul is lying — despite how very, very many of them there are.

We are truly in a gaslight situation here in the United States. People all over the world can see it. Yet we ourselves can’t seem to believe the audacity of a Presidential administration that has the nerve to come before us over and over again like a cheating spouse, and say in outraged tones, “We’re administering more COVID-19 tests than anyone else in the world!” or “That’s not lipstick on my collar, it’s ketchup!” until We, the People, start to question our own perceptions.

Thank God for the press. Even in these hard times, it does its job and it does not let up. If it’s a reputable outlet, its assertions are provable and its perspective admirably neutral. Those are the things that make it reputable. And given how specific news organizations, the media generally, and even individual reporters are being constantly attacked by our current President, these achievements alone are laudable.

As a former journalist (I no longer work full-time in journalism), I marvel that we still have a press that’s as honest and conscientious as it is.

Somehow the media, overall, seems to have kept its collective head even while reporting some of the grimmest, most frightening news most of us can ever remember. Corona is a news story “with legs,” meaning it continues to be newsworthy over a period of time. I don’t ever recall a story with legs like these! Every day it changes, and new angles present themselves. It’s like an onion you can’t finish peeling.

I think about reporters having the guts to chase stories that lead them to hospitals, research labs, bedsides, funeral homes, jails, factories, nursing homes — all of the places no one wants to be right now.

Then came the demonstrations. For more than two weeks, I saw reporters whom I already respected and admired doing a kickass job surrounded by crowds of peaceful and not-so-peaceful protestors and police. I saw them working at night and by day, in hard rain, hearing flash-bangs, choking on tear gas, ducking thrown objects. It was pretty incredible. Some were indeed injured; all had to function in volatile conditions, sometimes running or walking for hours. All were probably exposed to coronavirus while doing their jobs.

MSNBC’s Chris Jansing, Ali Veshi and Garrett Haake especially impressed me — along with so many others.

I think about all the desk anchors now working in their home offices or at their dining room tables. We’re used to seeing them glammed up and poised against glowing studio backdrops. For weeks they’ve been showing up for broadcasts looking like their own 7th grade yearbook photos, with homemade hair and makeup, makeshift lighting, and those awful sound delays that give such a stilted rhythm to interviews.

But they do show up, and mostly they project the same focus and professionalism we’re used to. Some of them probably think it’s the best time in history to be a journalist. Others probably wake up every day full of dread. But either way they show up.

Thanks to the press, we’ve been able to hear directly from Emergency Room and ICU staffs who cry in their cars after long shifts, from first responders who themselves come down with the virus, from funeral directors, and relatives of those who have gotten sick or died, and sometimes even from patients themselves. Everyone has a phone nowadays, but most of us don’t have the same access to the public that news outlets have. In this pressured time, news outlets have become conduits between the community and the audience, editing and running “citizen journalist” pieces like never before.

In those agonizing days of the daily White House press briefings, beat reporters showed up day after day, despite the Trump administration’s refusal to protect their health, and despite the contempt the President rained on many of them publicly.

All in all, I think it would be great to pause a second here and acknowledge the great work the press is doing right now — work that has never been harder.

Donald Trump is abusive to the press in a way no other President in history has been. He seems to feel that reporters’ insistence on challenging his version of events is personal, when in fact the opposite is probably true. He hates the press more than the press hates him. In some ways the press may even love him, because no reporter in this era ever has to wrack his or her brains for a story. Since January 20, 2017, Trump has been throwing them out the window of the Presidential motorcade like confetti.

Does the press enjoy fact-checking him, contradicting him, finding facts and evidence to refute the constant stream of lies that process from his mouth? Not known. No one in the press complains about it, at least not that I’ve heard.

Take this, for instance: “If we did 350 million [COVID-19] tests, one for each person, the media would say, ‘Oh, you should have done two for each person.’ No matter what you do, it doesn’t make any difference,” Trump whined on April 23, during one of those press briefings. And yet his comment was truthfully taken down and communicated to the public. The content was not factual, since there have never been 350 million available COVID-19 tests in this country. But the fact that he said it was witnessed, recorded and is, in fact, a fact.

This is a perfect example of the press spouting facts while the President spouts opinion.

Note that while Trump continually bemoans his “unfair treatment” at the hands of the press, the press does not publicly bemoan his unfair treatment of them, their time, or their integrity. When he throws around the term “fake news,” as he does at every opportunity, the press doesn’t respond with cries of “it’s you lying to the people, not us,” a charge with arguably much more substance.

Right now, as a society, we may need the truth more than we ever have. In an election year that has so far included an impeachment, a pandemic, and more social unrest than the U.S. has seen in almost a century, we need to know what’s happening. What’s at stake is … well, everything.

Instead this President is doing all he can to scramble the truth -- about who he is and what he has done, and even the very nature of truth itself. By shouting “fake news!” whenever the media reports something he doesn’t like, he sows seeds of doubt in the public mind. We, as a society, then cast around trying to figure out what’s true and what isn’t.

You know what this gives rise to?

Vigilantism — like his own followers storming statehouses armed with M-15s, because they truly don’t know if they’re being manipulated by the press into believing coronavirus is a serious threat.

It also gives rise to the people, themselves, getting out and making the news. Or seeing it for themselves, instead of taking someone else’s word for it. It was a civilian bystander’s video that captured the killing of Ahmaud Arbery and the slow murder of George Floyd. No one had to believe the news — or the White House.

The term “free press” doesn’t mean the press is free to lie. It means the press is free to speak freely under the First Amendment and being free from government coercion. In America, journalists aren’t supposed to get thrown in jail because they publish a story the President or some other powerful person doesn’t like. If you what you write (or tape, etc.) as a journalist could get you sent to a work camp or shoved in front of a tribunal, as is the case in many places in the world, then you are probably working for an underground press, not CNN or the BCC.

A free press is the spine of any democracy. In a free system, the press is expected to get the news without interference, and then to give to to the public without bias or manipulation.

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