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Editorial: Don’t subscribe to the ‘media is dishonest’ mantra

Journalism is not the enemy.

Washington Post Editor Marty Baron is one of the premier names in American journalism. Best known as the figurehead of the Boston Globe’s “Spotlight” findings, Baron’s Post has gone head-to-head with President Donald Trump throughout the last two years.

Trump calls the media dishonest, an agenda-filled group of reporters who take aim at him and his administration. Baron disagrees.

In an interview with Recode, Baron said reporters aren’t engaged in war with Trump. He said they’re performing their function.

“The way I view it is, we’re not at war with the administration,” he said. “We’re at work. We’re doing our jobs. To use language that says we’re scum, that we’re garbage. You know, at one point, [Trump] said we’re the lowest form of humanity. That wasn’t enough, so he said we’re the lowest form of life itself. So I don’t know where we go from there. That’s apparently where we are.”

Perhaps Trump views journalism as a threat. If something goes bad on his end, already establishing a precedent of “dishonest media” provides a diversion. His attacks on reporters have become one of his signature traits.

The issue is it compromises the fourth estate. The nemesis of power is accountability.

If you’re taking over a small country, the first to be annihilated are reporters. They are the ones who hold the higher ups accountable. Former President George W. Bush said as much on the “Today” show this week.

“I consider the media to be indispensable to democracy,” he said. “We need the media to hold people like me to account. I mean, power can be very addictive and it can be corrosive and it’s important for the media to call to account people who abuse their power, whether it be here or elsewhere.”

The New York Times responded to Trump with a new marketing campaign: ‘The Truth.’ The campaign focused on the increased need for accurate reporting. It emphasizes the everlasting search for truth.

Interestingly, to concede a point to Trump, truth is in perception. We can’t speak for every journalist. There’s no question some publicly oppose him. There are exceptions to everything. Trump is allowing the exception to influence perception of the entire field.

The key doesn’t necessarily lie in truth, but in fact.

Truth is built from analysis of fact. Social truth is created by one’s perception of the facts. But if the individual disregards fact, how can he call the media dishonest? The truth he holds is jaded by analysis (or lack thereof) of fact.

Be it CNN, The Post, The Times or any other outlet, there is a shared purpose: to inform the public. The media’s job isn’t to alter feelings, it’s to keep the public “in the know.” Barring specific outlets from press briefings is simply counterintuitive to not just the nation’s power balance, but to the First Amendment.

The confrontation between Trump and media won’t halt until he accepts reporters’ social roles, as Bush said. On the flip side, running constant stories attacking Trump and stirring the pot won’t help relations either.

Ultimately, as the most powerful man in the country, Trump should embrace the media. Whether he likes it or not, that is his No. 1 connection to civilians. The press, meanwhile, will continue to do its job as it has for centuries.

If it’s in the public interest, the story will be told. Investigations will be launched, research conducted and public figure after public figure interviewed. Trump has, at most, eight years in office. The media will continue for the rest of time.

Journalism is not the enemy. And he needs to acknowledge that sooner rather than later.

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