Well, it only took until 23 days before the election, but we finally have our first American daily newspaper editorial endorsing Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump in the general election. It was published Sunday in the St. Joseph News-Press (circulation 26,000) of northwest Missouri, and brings the unofficial Wikipedia count of endorsements to Hillary Clinton 147, Gary Johnson 6, and Donald Trump 2 (the other being a single note in the iconoclastic Santa Barbara News-Press). Fifteen papers have declined to endorse, and another 9 just urged readers to not vote Trump, so you could plausibly argue that the GOP candidate has -7 daily newspaper endorsements.
The editorial in question takes a kind of warts-and-all approach, underlining that Trump will serve as a change agent in concert with a Republican Congress to break up the excesses and sclerosis of a corrupt status quo:
No one will suggest Trump is without flaws and a personal history that is best left in the past. Coarse and even crude behavior on one’s record is nothing to be proud of or to put forward as a model for young people. But these matters do not rise to the point of disqualifying him in a race against a candidate who has done so much over the last 30 years to abuse the public’s trust. […]
Donald Trump became relevant due to the glaring failings of an entrenched governing bureaucracy defined by Obama and Clinton. A vote for Trump is a vote to change this dynamic and to cast our lot with a movement that is bigger than Trump alone.
So even Trump’s lone supporter in the Fourth Estate is holding its collective nose a bit.
Ever since the Billy Bush tape, which Trump responded to by breaking free of his “shackles,” his campaign-long Cold War against the always-unpopular media has been dialed up to Defcon 2. Hyperbolic surrogates such as Newt Gingrich are accusing the media of engineering a “coup d’etat” led by “20 TV executives [who] have decided to destroy him.”
But the campaign is not the only party removing restraints. Many journalists have been responding to the Trump challenge by loudly taking off their own gloves, calling lies “lies” (particularly when uttered by Trump, if we are being honest), and demanding a romanticized “Murrow moment” to confront the orange-hued populist right in the face. You wanna call us biased? I got yer bias right here!
Yes. The media is biased.
Biased against hatred, sexism, racism, incompetence, belligerence, inequality, To name a few.
— Jim Roberts (@nycjim) October 16, 2016
It’s a difficult dance, taking off the shackles of “false equivalence” (this cycle’s go-to phrase for journalists urging other journalists to go harder at Trump) while insisting it’s all in the cause of Greater Truth. As I wrote here in 2013, intrinsic bias can combine with emboldened bullshit-detection to produce almost comically one-sided exercises in “fact-checking.” Unhelpfully for those who seek to maintain that balancing act, the Columbia Journalism Review this week ran an article with the headline “Journalists shower Hillary Clinton with campaign cash.” The nut:
People identified in federal campaign finance filings as journalists, reporters, news editors or television anchors—as well as other donors known to be working in journalism—have combined to give more than $396,000 to the presidential campaigns of Clinton and Trump, according to a Center for Public Integrity analysis.
More than 96 percent of that cash has benefited Clinton: About 430 people who work in journalism have, through August, combined to give about $382,000 to the Democratic nominee, the Center for Public Integrity‘s analysis indicates.
About 50 identifiable journalists have combined to give about $14,000 to Trump.
Also unhelpful is that this same story runs every four years. And adding further fuel to the Trumpian fire, the Wikileaks Podesta emails show plenty of embarrassing journalistic suck-uppery to Team Clinton.
As someone who shares many (though thankfully not all!) of the mores and attitudes of the hated MSM (including an early and complete revulsion at all things Trump), I have three friendly suggestions for my colleagues to navigate this unprecedented terrain in which an entire ostensibly impartial industry is seemingly allied against a single politician:
1) Disclose and confront your own biases. Yes, all of your staff is voting against Trump, as would be confirmed if you had the baseline courage and philosophical consistency of asking employees to volunteer their voting intentions. But there are less predictable elections, and more internal reasons for having a rough partisan breakdown of a newsroom. If a media outlet dedicated to fairness is as ideologically lopsided as a university psychology department, then you are going to produce a biased selection of news.
2) Lose some of the haughty, of-COURSE-we’re-fair grandeur. The news media is consistently one of the least trusted institutions in civil society. That is not the creation of Donald Trump, or the Republican Party, or talk radio, or Fox News. They all took advantage of a market opportunity you helped create. It is possible—even advisable!—to get after the challenge of fact-checking the Donald Trumps and Hillary Clintons of the world without bathing yourself in professional self-righteousness. A little humility can go a long way, not least in dialing back the certainty of your rectitude.
3) Remember that no one died and made you guardians of the republic. This point is related to #2, but also acknowledges an added human temptation. Donald Trump has made you the Enemy (or at least co-enemy), and so the natural instinct is to raise up on your hind legs and bare those claws. That should be avoided. If you hate-hate-hate being treated as synonymous with the Clinton campaign (and you do), then it’s all the more prudent to act like a journalist more than a surrogate.
And barring all that, just show us your vote!