Why Diane's guest Ben Wittes says no.
The U.S. media is accustomed to covering a White House that plays by certain rules. But President-elect Donald Trump tweets false information freely and frequently manipulates the media. How journalists are rethinking their role under a Trump presidency.
- James Fallows National correspondent, The Atlantic magazine
- Margaret Sullivan Media columnist, The Washington Post
- Glenn Thrush Senior political correspondent, POLITICO
- Mark Baldwin Executive editor, Rockford Register Star and The Journal-Standard of Freeport
- Scottie Nell Hughes Former Donald Trump surrogate; political editor of RightAlerts.com; contributor to CNN
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. Yesterday morning, Donald Trump tweeted that those who burn the American flag should have their citizenship revoked. We don’t know if Trump meant this literally, but reporters spent the day explaining why that would be unconstitutional. It became the latest example of what many see as Trump's successful manipulation of the media.
MS. DIANE REHMHere to examine how journalists are rethinking their approach under a Trump presidency, James Fallows of The Atlantic, Margaret Sullivan of The Washington Post and Glenn Thrush of Politico. I'm sure many of you have your own thoughts. Give us a call, 800-433-8850. Send us email to email@example.com. Follow us on Facebook or Twitter. And thank you all for being here.
MR. JAMES FALLOWSThank you, Diane.
MS. MARGARET SULLIVANThanks, Diane.
MR. GLENN THRUSHThanks.
REHMJim Fallows, in your latest piece, you talk about a chronic and acute version of a public information problem in the U.S. Describe it for us.
FALLOWSYes. By the chronic problem, I meant the fact that we've all discussed. Over the last 20, 25 years, we have, on the one hand, the mainstream media suffering all the economic and cultural and other pressures we're aware of, and traditional role of saying, okay, this is true, this is false, has been weakened and we have the rise of the sort of information silos. The acute version is the person of Donald Trump.
FALLOWSAnd the argument I make there is that what we now see, in retrospect, as a sort of built in constraint of most public figures, that they would at least try to tell the truth most of the time and they would recognize it as a significant penalty if they're shown not telling the truth. This does not apply in the same way to Donald Trump and therefore, we sort of need to recalibrate our gears to say, how do we treat assertions where the speaker himself doesn't seem to care whether they can be proven false five minutes later, just goes on and doesn't show any affect from that.
REHMAnd the most recent example of that would be?
FALLOWSThe most recent one, I guess the -- there's a kind of unawareness in this flag-burning thing. That's not so much no telling the truth. I'll just give a simple example that I think illustrates many other things. There was a day during the campaign where Mr. Trump came out and just spoke directly in the camera saying it's an outrage when the presidential debates are scheduled. The NFL has games those days. I've just received a letter from the National Football League saying they're unhappy about this.
FALLOWSThe NFL immediately said, there's no such letter. We never sent that to you. He then said, the Koch brothers are begging me to take contributions from them, but of course, I'm not going to do that. The Koch brothers said, what are you talking about? We've done nothing of this. For most people, there'd be a kind of reflex. Think how Hillary Clinton was sort of skewered for her "I was under sniper fire on the tarmac" story, many years and years ago. We can remember that story because there is one of them.
FALLOWSAnd there are other places where people complain about what Hillary Clinton has said. But I think the fact of somebody who is not constrained by the idea that if you can show it to be false five minutes later, it doesn't matter.
REHMMargaret Sullivan, you're calling for a new, new journalism. What do you mean?
SULLIVANWell, I think Trump, as Jim has said, really changes the game and journalists have to respond to that in a really strong way. They have to be willing to call out falsehoods and a kind of wackiness that -- and recognize that a lot of people simply won't care. And yet, they have to do that job better than ever. I think they also have to stop being as self-satisfied as they have been and...
REHMWhat do you mean?
SULLIVANWell, I think that journalists, you know, particularly those of us who are coastal, will, you know, we think we know a lot and we think we know a lot about how politics works and how the electorate feels and how the country, you know, is going. And we've just experienced a big, you know, failure on that front. And for me, the correction is to, you know, to put it bluntly, to get out more and to, you know, not just to touch down in North Dakota and do a story and leave, but to dig in and to really understand how a whole part of the population is feeling and thinking.
REHMAnd to you, Glenn Thrush, what is your take on all this? You're a political reporter. Explain how Trump has changed the rules of the game.
THRUSHWell, I think Jim mentioned this before or maybe it was Margaret talking about the corkscrew landing in Bosnia that Hillary Clinton dissembled, shall we say, about. I broke that story and I remember being outraged at the fact that she continued to repeat the falsehood for three months. I believe I broke that thing in November and it was until February where she made that acknowledgement. And I thought that was absolutely wretched and I was shocked the people weren't up in arms about that.
THRUSHWe get two or three of those a day from Donald Trump. Look, I think there was a watershed moment earlier this year when the New York Times, on its front page, with reference to Donald Trump's birther smear against the president, used the word "lie". I think we have, first, got to kind of get our terms straight as a business. How do we define these various terms? How do we identify a lie? My thumbnail definition of lie is if you know -- if the evidence is out there, if the evidence is relatively clear-cut and you continue to repeat the falsehood over and over again for a motive, for a political or a commercial motive or even a personal motive, you are telling a lie.
THRUSHThe problem with that is if you keep saying it over and over again, and we saw this effect with Trump, I think, in a more pronounced way and this is really the most pernicious thing, if you keep saying that he lied, if you keep saying that he dissembled, if you keep fact-checking him, people get numb to this stuff. So we have to figure out a way, in addition to just call -- in addition to our core function of calling him out, using the same tools that he uses to let his -- our articulation, our analysis of his falsehoods punch through with the same force.
THRUSHI don't know how we do that, but we've got to start thinking that way.
REHMIt's interesting, Margaret, because you've written that on the one hand, the New York Times took one tweet that Trump had put out there and said, objectively, this is wrong. On the other hand, Glenn is saying you've got to call it a lie.
SULLIVANWell, and one of the problems here is that, you know, we're -- we in the -- relatively the mainstream and often liberal media, we're talking to ourselves a lot. We're preaching to the choir. I think a lot of Trump's most fervent supporters, you know, knew very well that he wasn't telling the truth every minute and they knew very well that he had done some things they didn't admire. But there was a larger question for them, which was that they didn't -- they had a visceral dislike and distaste for Hillary Clinton. They felt she'd been shoved down their throats.
SULLIVANAnd this was a protest vote, in many ways, and it overcame what they -- many people considered to be pretty small potatoes. So what if he doesn't all the time tell the truth? Politicians never do. That seemed to be the thinking.
FALLOWSSo I had forgotten that Glenn did that great story. Forgive me for having that brain melt. But that was significant because it was a flat-out lie that you pursued and it was told with her. I think there's -- what Margaret is saying, there is a phase shift we should be aware of now. There are all those dynamics you mentioned during the campaign, the reasons people liked or didn't like Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump. But he is now, apparently, going to be the president. And the question is, the premises we bring to bear in our coverage -- and essentially, I'm saying that in contrast to all political coverage in my lifetime, even Richard Nixon, I think the starting point for most press coverage is that there's no presumption that anything Donald Trump says is true.
FALLOWSAnd we should start from the premise that this might be true, it might not and then pursue it, but not present it as the president says, X, critics say, Y, because the president may be just making up something as X just because of something in his nature.
REHMBut how do you do that? How do you report on a tweet that he puts out there that you know and you know and you know is totally false without somehow providing some balance, Margaret?
SULLIVANWell, for one thing, I would like to see a little less reporting on tweets. I understand that what the president-elect says in any medium, whether it's Twitter or some other way, is important. I totally get that and I don't think we can ignore what he says. But I think when he goes after the audience at "Hamilton" because of the way they booed or reacted to Mike Pence, that can be a ridiculous distraction and I think we need to have a little bit more order about what's important here and what isn't.
SULLIVANSo you know, I feel strongly about that.
THRUSHI agree with Margaret on the larger point, but I disagree profoundly about the modalities that we need to use. We cannot denuclearize. This guy has how many -- what is it? 25 million followers right now. It's an extremely powerful direct way of getting to our audience or the audience at large. Think of that in comparison to a newspaper circulation or even a website circulation. A lot of websites are really happy to get 25 million unique users a month. Trump has an unparalleled direct access to the people that he wants to talk most to and we got to recognize that.
THRUSHSo I think pulling away from those media is a profound mistake. What we need to do is to figure out a way to deploy the weapons of truth as effectively as other people are deploying the weapons of dissembling.
REHMHow do you do that?
THRUSHI'm a tabloid guy. I come out of the New York City tabloid environment and by the way, so does Donald Trump. We have got to figure out ways to tell our truth more loudly.
REHMGlenn Thrush, he's senior political correspondent for Politico. Short break, we'll be right back.
REHMAnd we're talking about how the news media needs to change its coverage, how it does it work, how it approaches Donald Trump in an age of tweets, many of which are false, a whole new approach, perhaps, to journalism. Joining us now is Scottie Nell Hughes. She is joining us from Nashville. She's political editor of RightAlerts.com and a contributor for CNN. Scottie Nell, thanks for joining us.
MS. SCOTTIE NELL HUGHESGood morning, thank you for having me.
REHMI gather you call Donald Trump the media's worst nightmare. Talk about why.
HUGHESWell, it's simple. We know he ran a nontraditional campaign. It was a nontraditional election. And because as we see the polls did not accurately -- well, the polls actually predicted, but nobody was expecting, amongst the media, the outcome that we got. And now we're going to have a nontraditional administration.
HUGHESAnd so the media, who have -- who is known for supposedly being flexible, is dealing with a situation they've never dealt with before, and it's not just because of who the candidate is, it's because of the environment that we live in. No other president has been able to directly talk to the people and have the tools to do that at his fingertips like Mr. Trump is, whether we're talking Twitter or YouTube or Facebook live. Social media has opened up a new channel that goes directly from the politician to the people.
HUGHESAnd Mr. Trump knows that, he recognizes that, and the media is going to have to figure out how they're able to still be able to get a message out that in many ways Mr. Trump feels like he can accurately do better just going directly to them.
REHMNow I know you've been listening since the top of the program, and I'm sure you've heard James Fallows talk about lies that Donald Trump has put out there in tweets, in things he's said. What do you make of that?
HUGHESWell, I think it's also an idea of an opinion. And that's -- on one hand I hear half the media saying that these are lies, but on the other half there are many people that go, no, it's true. And so one thing that has been interesting this entire campaign season to watch is that people that say facts are facts, they're not really facts. Everybody has a way, it's kind of like looking at ratings or looking at a glass of half-full water. Everybody has a way of interpreting them to be the truth or not true.
HUGHESThere's no such thing, unfortunately, anymore of facts. And so Mr. Trump's tweet amongst a certain crowd, a large -- a large part of the population, are truth. When he says that millions of people illegally voted, he has some -- in his -- amongst him and his supporters, and people believe they have facts to back that up. Those that do not like Mr. Trump, they say that those are lies, and there's no facts to back it up. So...
REHMAll right, let's go to Glenn Thrush and let him comment.
THRUSHFirst I've got to pick my jaw up off the floor here. There are no objective facts? I mean, that is -- that is an absolutely outrageous assertion. Of course there are facts. There is no widespread proof that three million people voted illegally. It's been checked over and over again. We had a Pew study that took place over 15 years that showed people had more likelihood of being struck by lightning than voting illegally in an election.
THRUSHFacts are facts. I'm sorry you don't like the facts, but, you know, you said a couple of things here that I think are -- people really have to understand. First of all, your president, our president, Donald Trump, president-elect, is not the first president to go around the mainstream media and get to people. What were the fireside chats? What were -- what was the early advertising, the earliest ages of our -- days of our republic, media was entirely partisan.
THRUSHSo you've got to understand the historical precedent. Trump is just using the newest tools at his disposal, and you are -- the one thing I think you got totally right, that PolitiFact would give you a completely true score on, is we definitely need to start responding to this.
REHMAnd James Fallows?
HUGHESHold on, hold on one second. Let me respond back to Glenn Thrush on this.
REHMSure, go ahead.
HUGHESNow that I know that Glenn is listening. Actually what you said was wrong. Let's look at 2014 electoral studies. The journal showed that in '08 and 2010, illegal immigrants were higher -- and this was done by -- illegal immigrants were actually voting in it. These were done by four professors at Old Dominion.
THRUSHCan you give me the numbers? Just a -- yeah, sorry.
HUGHESAs many as 2.8 million that these four professors at Old Dominion and George Mason came out and proved and said 2.8. Pew research poll, that same poll you cited, actually 53 percent of Democrats, Democratic Party, support letting illegals vote. These are people that actually monitor those polls. So this is why if anything we should have stronger voter ID laws in all of these states to make sure that we don't have this type of conversation going forward.
HUGHESBut because in many states you can mail things in, those were -- so yes, there is facts to back up what I said and why Trump supporters believe it. You are wrong, sir.
FALLOWSIt's often the more specific, quote, smaller issues where the fact issue is more dramatic. Donald Trump has said there were 20,000 people outside a certain hall. The fire marshal said the hall holds 3,000 people. Again he said -- he said at one day the NFL asked me to move the dates of these debates. The NFL said what are you talking about, we've never contacted you. He said he gave donations to these various charities. David Fahrenthold told the Post, contacted hundreds of these charities, said they never had received it.
FALLOWSSo there are matters of opinion -- I think that it was very revealing, an important thing that Scottie Nell Hughes is saying, which is that there are no facts. I think it actually is an intended result of this campaign and administration to think, well, really there aren't any facts, it's all opinion, so we're going to sort of manipulate the things that we care about.
FALLOWSI believe that the job for the media and civil society now is essentially to say there are such things as facts. So the line may be drawn here.
HUGHESYes, well, what's interesting and what he just said, all those people he mentioned are known bias, including PolitiFact...
FALLOWSThe NFL, the NFL is biased?
HUGHESWell that's the question that you have to ask right now. These were private conversations that happened with the NFL. The NFL that came out and spoke about it, the person who did, was someone that we've proven has not been necessarily a Trump fan. We don't know the conversations that happened, and that's -- and just like it was reported that the Secret Service -- the media reported Secret Service came and talked to Mr. Trump about his comments regarding Hillary Clinton, that never happened.
HUGHESBut yet the media doesn't say we're sorry, we're sorry we made up that lie about you, Mr. Trump. That's the problem with this is we've somehow gone, as journalists, from stopping reporting the who, what, where, the facts and we've mixed in our own opinions of why. And, you know, there are some that still do that, but unfortunately people like Fahrenthold, who you actually pointed out, they feel like putting their -- interjecting their own opinion into it, so any facts that they might be able to report nobody believes because he's interlaced his opinion in these other places.
REHMAll right, okay, and Margaret Sullivan, you'd like to say something?
SULLIVANYes, Scottie Nell, with due respect, if you identify as a journalist, you cannot also be saying there are no facts, which you did just say. And I also just want to challenge your language in describing people who are immigrants who are not documented. I think it is offensive to call them illegals.
HUGHESBut that's what they are. That's part of the whole problem here. That is a fact. If you are here illegally in this country...
SULLIVANIllegal is not a noun. Illegal is not noun.
HUGHESIf you are illegally here -- that's why Mr. Trump won. If you want to keep going down this path and usually this politically correct, basically non-factual language of calling them undocumented immigrants and not calling them what they are, all you're -- you're going to continue to lose. The Democratic Party is going to continue to lose. And the facts -- there are such things as facts, but facts, however, the media has taken them and skewed them so much that it depends on -- you can look at reports at people like Daily Caller, Breitbart, Washington Times, even things, you know, that don't necessarily go along with your opinion, and you will say those are not facts.
HUGHESWell guess what? It's a two-sided mirror there because they say the same about your reporting.
REHMAll right, and on that very note, I want to ask you, Scottie Nell, what you believe journalists should be doing in covering Donald Trump.
HUGHESWell, and let me say this. I'm a classically studied journalist, but I will be the first to say at this stage of my life, I am an opinion journalist. So when I say something, I'm going to go in and put that disclaimer, I'm giving you my opinion in it. The problem is that journalists today going forward are going to have to start saying I'm giving you an opinion, or I am giving you just the straight facts, I'm leaving the why out of it, my explanation out of it, if we're going to restore credibility into this field.
HUGHESWhat journalists need to do going forward with Mr. Trump is they're going to have to actually start being straight with him. If you're an opinion person like Sean Hannity, he's going to -- and I think we all pretty much know he's going to have whatever he said based with his opinion. Now others need to be as honest about that. And so going forward, journalists are going to have to realize that when Mr. -- they're being basically played with right now like cat and mouse, and the cat is winning.
HUGHESWhen they put out a press release detailing every single item that the three of them had for dinner last night, including their dessert for chocolate cake, you realize that you are getting played and being made to look foolish, and those that take that bait are going to continue to be down this path of making an uproar over every little issue. Pick and choose what is important, what you actually think the American people need to know and don't go off on all of these side tangents and actually cut off with, you know, leave out the drama and stick with exactly the things that the American people need.
REHMAll right, and Glenn Thrush?
THRUSHI was not classically trained as a journalist. Mine was more jazz improvisation.
HUGHESWell there you go.
THRUSHI covered the New York City Council, and that's where I learned that most everything, to paraphrase the great H.L. Mencken, the one way to look at politicians as a reporter is down and that one has to -- and we're not just talking about Donald Trump here. You have to -- I've covered Hillary Clinton for the better part of 15 years, and I can tell you I've done a fair amount of substantial fact-checking on her, as well.
THRUSHBut your guy, and I will say this with complete objectivity, I covered Rudy Giuliani, I've covered a mass of politicians, your guys dissembles, lies, makes stuff up at a frequency that no one has ever seen before. I mean, I think -- if you're going to talk about bias, this thing that you are calling bias, this is where you are blurring the line incredibly dangerously.
THRUSHIt is not biased to call out problems with fact and interpretation. That does not make us biased. I don't think you ever heard, for instance, us using the term lie as frequently as we had with Mitt Romney, George W. Bush, and, you know, we even had -- I remember there being great debates during the Gulf War about the assertions that were made about weapons of mass destruction. I think your candidate has an estranged relationship with fact.
THRUSHAnd I think one of the really interesting things that I'd like to see to push this forward, because this isn't about beating him up or calling him a liar, the presidency, and James knows this, the presidency is the most information-restrictive environment on the planet. The good thing about the presidency is the filtering, and Denis McDonough, the current chief of staff, uses this is as his personal job, is to make sure the president gets the best information so he can make the best decisions.
THRUSHMy concern, particularly hearing that President-elect Trump, and I'd be interested in hearing your opinion on this, has chosen not, except on two occasions, to get the intelligence briefings that presidents-elect get. How is he going to make proper decisions and tell people the truth when he is not opening himself up to these more curated streams of real information?
HUGHESYeah, that's interesting you brought that up, and I agree, the first time that I heard that he had not done -- he had not received more than two briefings, I was -- I am concerned about that. But I also had some faith that Governor Pence had been getting them daily. I think Mr. Trump is approaching his administration different from any other before, that he's looking at it as a team.
HUGHESWhen he picked his vice president, he is looking at -- he picked someone that truly was going to be a version of an equal. They were going to work as a team like this. That's something that we've not seen necessarily before when it came to other presidents, like President Obama and Joe Biden, who I'm sure are great friends but haven't necessarily always been seen working together. Same thing even with Bush and Quayle. That -- you've never really had that.
HUGHESI think what Mr. Trump is doing, because he's being so transparent -- here is my advice to those also in the media. You also have to -- don't be afraid to say something nice about what he's doing. Very rarely...
REHMAll right, let me -- hold on just one second, Scottie Nell. Let me just remind our listeners it is "The Diane Rehm Show." All right, go ahead.
HUGHESYes, you know, the thing that we're seeing right now, we're seeing more transparency in a transition process, believe it or not, then I think we even saw with President Obama. We're seeing who he's actually bringing in. We're seeing daily press briefings, daily press phone calls. We're knowing about -- and whether that's positive or negative, we know who he's talking to. We're live on every camera that we can get.
HUGHESHow about you say, you know what, that's a good thing. Now let's -- you know, you can say something positive about what he's doing in a transition that he's trying to make very, very open for the public.
REHMOkay, Scottie Nell, I want to ask you one question, and that is about the tweet that came out regarding flag burning and putting people in jail, taking away their voting rights. Why would your candidate, why would the president-elect put out such a tweet that surely he must have known was unconstitutional?
HUGHESWell here's the thing about the outlawing of flag burning, and you're right. I think what it was, he was very upset at the videos he was seeing and we all have been seeing. I think most Americans do not agree with going out and burning your flag because that flag represents more than just a piece of cloth. Threatening to take away rights, that's not really even an option, but this is actually the same thing.
HUGHESThis is what's interesting. Do you want to talk about why people think the media is biased? This is the same law -- you know, the same thing Mr. Trump tweeted out yesterday was almost exactly along the lines of the same idea that Hillary Clinton put the ban for in 2005. But yet we never heard her -- that being brought up during the election.
HUGHESSo Mr. Trump yesterday takes all this heat for it, but we never heard that during the campaign, saying do you guys remember her trying to take away your freedom of speech in 2005. So that just shows kind of the double standard. But I think he's very, very frustrated.
REHMI think James wants to come in.
FALLOWSYeah, on that one there was a pro forma bill she was part of long ago that was written with acknowledge of the Supreme Court rulings defending flag burning that Justice Scalia and others have been part of, not taking away citizenship, et cetera. So I think it was the intemperateness that was part of it. And if I could just touch a couple of bases while I have the microphone here, I'll do it quickly.
FALLOWSNumber one, we mentioned earlier the role of taking in intelligence briefings. As I always point out I worked in a White House long ago for President Carter. What stays with me is how difficult this job is of making this endless succession of 51-49 calls and being able to be calm and dispassionate and, you know, restraining your impulses, and I think that's why a lot of people have been -- been concerned about the impulsiveness.
FALLOWSJust one or two other quick points. Scottie Nell Hughes mentioned the fact, you know, this is why you're losing, et cetera. It has to be remembered as part of the factual record of this election that somewhere near 2.5 million more people voted for Hillary Clinton than voted for Donald Trump. Now he is legitimately the president given the electoral college, but losing is a -- there's a larger picture going on here, too.
FALLOWSI do agree with Scottie Nell Hughes that we're all in the middle of making things up here, figuring out how we're going to deal with this because if the pose in the administration is what we're hearing, there are no facts, it's all biased, then we need to reconsider what we're doing.
REHMJames Fallows, he's national correspondent for The Atlantic magazine. Scottie Nell Hughes of RightAlerts.com, she is a contributor for CNN, I want to thank you Scottie Nell for joining us this morning.
REHMShort break, we'll be right back.
REHMAnd welcome back. It's time to open the phones, welcome our listeners into the conversation. First to Patrick in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. You're on the air.
PATRICKHi Diane. Thanks for having me on.
PATRICKI think what you journalists -- I think what you journalists need to do, as a group, and first of all, you have to decide to do this together. But you have to assault Trump the way he assaulted you. And you do that with every day, in every medium, on every website, every Facebook, every newspaper. Print the list of Trump's lies. Every day. The little ones at the top, the big ones at the bottom and tell the public every day how this man is lying to them.
FALLOWSSo, during the campaign, I did something called the Trump time capsule series, where I record each day, something he'd done that no national nominee had ever done before. Something that was at flat odds with the fact et cetera...
FALLOWS...oh, such as I mentioned the NFL thing. But what his attack on the Kahn family, his I'm not going to accept the results of the election. The election was rigged, this is rigged, et cetera. And so I got to 152 in this series by Election Day. And I think that while this can't be the main thing the media do, I think recognizing this is something unusual, abnormal, not sort of both sides critics complained is an important part of our mission.
REHMWhat do you think, Margaret?
SULLIVANWell, I absolutely agree that we need to call out lies. I don't like the idea that journalists are going to assault Trump the way he has assaulted the media. I don't actually think that's our role. I think our role is to dig for facts. It's to tell the truth. It's to search out the facts and we may have to do that in a different way, but I don't agree with the idea of an assault -- of a kind of a combined assault on Trump.
THRUSHI agree with Margaret and I disagree with the caller that we have to call out his lies. I think we do have to give presumption. We, generally speaking, we have to call out individual falsehoods, but we have to give a presumption. My feeling is, particularly on cable television, we need a real time Chiron when someone is giving a speech. Fact checking points of fact. There are various points that can be in dispute. And I was a big fan, and I was sorry that the Debate Commission rejected the suggestion.
THRUSHOf having some fact checking component interwoven into debates. I think that is essential going forward and we got to have a bigger national discussion on this.
FALLOWSAnd just to follow up with one or two illustrations, when Donald Trump said during a debate, you know, if I'm President, you know, you'd be in jail, that sort of thing. Lock her up. Again, that's outside the norm of American politics. When there was an airplane that disappeared over the Mediterranean, and he instantly said, this is 100 percent terrorism, that's different from the way Presidents need to deliberate. So, finding some way to record these things that are different in our national experience in an ongoing way I think is important.
REHMAll right. Let's go to Steve in Orlando, Florida.
STEVEHi, thanks for taking my call.
STEVEI can't hope to improve on the comments of your illustrious panelists, I just wanted to suggest that the job of journalists going forward needs to be recognizing and rejecting false equivalencies. In this era of science denial, it's important to recognize that anecdotal evidence is not the same thing as empirical evidence. And the most important one to me is that it's important to recognize that Fox News is not the equivalent of the organizations that your panelists work for.
STEVEIt essentially is and always has been the PR arm of the Republican Party.
REHMMar -- Margaret.
SULLIVANWell, I think Steve makes a very good point, and I like that this idea of false equivalence has, you know, made its way into the conversation because it's very important. Journalists have come a long way on this in a relatively short time and they are less likely now to go with this sort of he said/she said journalism. And leave it up to the reader or the listener to decide what's true. We're -- we must state established fact in, in, in a news story, on a broadcast when we can. So I'm glad that you brought that up.
FALLOWSYes, two quick points. One is the illegal voting case, allegation is the clearest recent illustration of this. There is no real world evidence at all that millions of people voted illegally. And so, presenting this as sort of an open question is one illustration. The other is now that we're past the campaign, and it's not a matter of weighing Hillary Clinton's faults verses Donald Trump's faults, I think in a way, that false equivalence reflex will be less. And people can concentrate more on his administration.
THRUSHI want to throw one fact at the voter fraud thing. I spent an hour and a half with Kris Kobach in his office. He is the Secretary of State of Kansas, and really the intellectual Godfather of the notion that there's massive voting fraud in the country. And I asked him, what is the data set that you're using? An enormously engaging guy, and he's quite possibly going to be President Trump's DHS Secretary. It's in the realm of possibility. And he cited, and I may be getting this number wrong.
THRUSHHe did a 13 year study in the state of Kansas and found 212 documented instances of voter fraud over the course of 13 years and several million ballots cast. And then I asked him to extrapolate that nationally and he was speaking much more about a dozen here, a dozen there, swinging a too close to call kind of race. So the man who is most equipped, in terms of providing the President with that information, categorically, categorically denies these larger numbers.
REHMAll right. And joining us now is Mark Baldwin, pardon me, he's executive editor of the Rockford Illinois Register Star. And the Journal-Standard of Freeport in Illinois. Mark, tell us a bit about the city and region that your paper covers and did Donald Trump resonate there?
MR. MARK BALDWINWell, thank you for having me. You know, Rockford, really, is the western gateway to Chicago. And our city population is, you know, between 150 and 160 thousand. We're in a metro area of about 400,000. We are the industrial heartland. You know, you can think of us as a slightly smaller Toledo or a slightly larger Peoria. But this is the industrial heartland. And, you know, 50 years ago, we had some of the highest per capita incomes in the United States. Those were eroded over the decades by off shoring automation and the other broad economic trends.
MR. MARK BALDWINNow we're rebuilding for the 21st century. But you have a lot of people here who felt left behind. Rockford itself is a heavily Democratic city and Hillary Clinton won the city of Rockford with 57 percent of the vote. However, the county voted 56 percent for Trump and Trump narrowly won the county. Of course, across the state of Illinois, Clinton -- you know, we were never in play. But, you know, you do have people here for whom that message resonated very deeply.
REHMAll right. And actually, you say the way people are getting information now is like a form of censorship. What do you mean?
BALDWINWell, you know, we, traditionally, you know, we thought of censorship in terms of prior restraint. We -- the Pentagon Papers being the kind of classic example of that. But today, you know, information saturation is, is rather than pre-publication restraint is really how a political actor can censor the news. Because, because by flooding traditional media with an array of messages, you create an environment in which no one really knows what's true and what's not. And, you know, I think Trump is simply the most savvy user of, or maybe the most evolved inhabitant of, this new information ecosystem.
REHMSo what then do you tell your reporters? How did they go about reporting the news?
BALDWINOkay. Well, you know, I want to -- let me flip that for just a second. Number one, we really focus on doing high impact work now. And frankly, I tell them don't swing at a pitch in the dirt when you know, we, we're no different. All the forces that your guests have talked about today are in play here in Rockford to one extent or another. And so, you know, we are tweeted at and get all sorts of Facebook messages that have little to no relation to reality. And I tell them, don't swing at a pitch in the dirt.
BALDWINWe're going to traffic in fact based reporting and stuff that's really going to make a high impact on the community. But you know, what's happening in our, in our organization and it, it -- you know, legacy news organizations around the country now, is that community engagement is becoming a larger and larger part of our business strategy. And that means, you know, bringing together the community around fact based reporting to talk about significant issues. And with the emphasis there being on fact base.
BALDWINYou know, we also do things like take the editorial board on the road and meet with neighborhood organizations. Immerse ourselves in their lives and with a special eye toward diversity. And I'm not -- and not just diversity of race and ethnicity, but also intellectual diversity, so that we really find out what's on peoples' minds. Among other things, what that does -- it makes our processes transparent. It gives us a chance to show, this is -- these are our standards of verification, okay?
BALDWINI can't speak for the local website or local TV, but these are our standards of verification. And most of all, what it does, it also requires, it also acquaints us with the street level concerns and the values of our audience. And I'll also say this. And it's germane to, sort of, the conversation I've been listening to. It also requires a degree of humility. You know, it may -- we go to a vulnerable place where we're a bit vulnerable. And -- but I think that's a good thing for a journalist to do.
REHMMark Baldwin. He's Executive Editor of The Rockford Register Star and the Journal-Standard of Freeport in Illinois. Thanks so much for joining us.
REHMJames, you know, you said that in a sense, what we're doing here is fighting for reality itself.
FALLOWSThere was a really interesting essay a day or two ago by Ned Resnikoff of the Think Progress Site. And I'm sure on your website and mine at the Atlantic, there will be specific relations to it, talking about the deliberate political strategy that Steve Bannon and others have advocated over the years of trying to attack the idea of reality itself, of knowable fact. Of anything that actually is true. If we go back 200 years plus, to the documents of the founders, there was some idea that you'd have to have facts and reality and public knowledge and ways that people can engage.
FALLOWSAnd so, if we're an era -- so I think that is what journalists and civic society now need to engage themselves for. None of us has the answers for that now. It's the beginning of the process of figuring out how to do it.
REHMAnd how do you begin, Margaret?
SULLIVANWell, I just want to say that I've been hearing from, because I've been writing about this, I've been hearing from a lot of readers on all sides. And one of the things I do hear is the hunger and the very strong feeling that, that they want their mainstream media to do this job. And to hold people accountable and to remind us of what is true. And, you know, the New York Times just reported that their subscriptions are way up. There is a ground swell, I think, of understanding that journalism is more important than ever right now.
REHMThe idea of a small newspaper getting out and talking with its readers, being out there involved with the community seem to me very important for a newspaper. How does Politico do that, Glenn?
THRUSHWell, first of all, I want to tender my job application to Mr. Baldwin who sounds like he's really got something -- got it going in exactly the right direction.
THRUSHWe spent a lot of time -- I've spent a lot of time out in the country. I am, you know, that is the basis -- all of our reporters mostly come from legacy publications. So, you know, we do get out there and do that. Granted, we do tend to cover it from the political frame, but we do need to do more of that.
REHMAnd you're listening to The Diane Rehm Show. And let's go here to Arlington, Texas. Steve, you're on the air.
STEVEOh, thank you. Thank you for taking my call.
STEVEOne of the things I'd like to point out is that most journalists work for for profit industries. And what goes on the air and out over the, you know, the airwaves, is managed content by business people whose job it is is to make money for the organization. So, I'm, you know, I don't have the numbers, but I'm sure that advertising revenue skyrocketed during this past campaign. And so, there was a business incentive to provide a sense of balance and equivalency in order to make more money.
STEVEAnd so, you know, journalists, they want to do what's right, but they work for people in organizations whose goal is to make money.
FALLOWSYes, this is an eternal problem in public information journalism reaching a new, acute stage. We know over the last 20 years or so, online media, Facebook, Google, Twitter, et cetera, have been sucking revenue from the established media. We know that during this campaign, whenever Donald Trump was on TV, more people watched than didn't. So CNN, for example, reported high revenue. So again, part of this reconsideration of how we understand our world is trying to think, again, about the economic base of this function of journalism.
FALLOWSWhich has never, never been a self-supporting business. It's also attached itself to something else. We have to find out what the new host body is going to be to provide this essential function.
THRUSHI'll give you the Les Moonves quote, which is really the big, the big quote of the whole year for me. He said it and he's the President and CEO of CBS. He said this in February. Quote, Donald Trump may not be good for America, but he's damn good for CBS.
FALLOWSAs Edward R. Murrow used to say about Joe McCarthy. No, no, being sarcastic.
SULLIVANAnd this is one of the great paradoxes of Donald Trump is that he benefitted so immensely from the exposure on cable news networks. And then he turned on them. And he, you know, I think that Jeff Zucker, the head of CNN, recognized because he had worked with him, and elevated him at NBC when he was there, The Apprentice, Celebrity Apprentice, he saw that Trump was, in his own words, a ratings machine. And so he made the most of him at CNN very much to the benefit of the bottom line. But I don't think to the benefit of the nation.
REHMI've got a number of callers who are all saying what they want is just the facts. And then they'll decide. They don't want opinions from journalists. But if journalists are confronted with falsehoods, don't you have to weigh in, Margaret?
SULLIVANI don't think that the listeners really would want, let's say, the Washington Post to be filled with AP style journalism that is nothing but the raw facts. I think there is a need to interpret, analyze, provide context. That doesn't mean that there needs to be opinion and bias. And I do understand that they're making a distinction, an important one there.
FALLOWSYes, yes. I agree. And so, it's a matter of providing a factual basis for the best version we can of understanding the world.
REHMJames Fallows of The Atlantic. Margaret Sullivan of the Washington Post. Glenn Thrush of Politico. What a wonderful discussion. Thank you. And thanks all for listening. I'm Diane Rehm.
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