Don Rogers: Welcome to the Upside Down
November 30, 2017
There's something ironic about The New York Times Magazine running cartoons explaining what each letter to the editor is trying to say.
Wait, what? The oh so erudite Times needs … anime? This is a comic book now?
Well, yes, apparently the intelligentsia of journalism has come to this, including the occasional "graphic novel" approach to articles. That and declaring the president a big fat liar in the news pages after presumably serious editors, serious indeed, decided with great deliberation, no doubt, that their news reporting would henceforth merge with their punditry.
Their judgment of Donald Trump's honesty, at least, being too important to be left entirely to the op-ed department, you understand. Besides, cable can't have all the fun.
So here we are, the best journalists on the planet (just ask ’em) losing their collective heads ... It’s not every day a non-story is big news.
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Maybe keeping up with the Joneses no longer was enough. In any case, they shifted from a mirror image of The Wall Street Journal to maybe a step or two further, short of a liberal Breitbart but onto a spectrum that touches propaganda.
What they really did was make a show of taking sides in their journalism. It was unprecedented for a major news outlet, and the others did stories politely asking, "What were you thinking?"
The Times' "audience development" team had to be thrilled. This could only play well with their dominant readership, profoundly, well, you know. Quite a shrewd business move, actually.
The Times hasn't slipped nearly so far as to outright propaganda. They just feel … liberated to express what they've decided is only the plain truth. Dude's a liar. Just say it, everywhere.
But this is the stuff of 2 plus 2 equals 5: Trump plus statement must equal lie. They've changed the formula for news. They added a silent addendum, their own judgment, as if another empirical "fact." Kind of like Einstein's constant.
That presidents have told falsehoods and displayed a salesy disregard for the strict truth is unremarkable. President Trump doing this with breathtaking regularity doesn't make his tweets and statements worse than the whoppers told throughout the history of the office.
Somehow this president spooked The Times into breaking from its tradition as the paragon of disciplined journalism.
Journalism, as The Times once could pontificate credibly, is reporting on what the best available evidence turns up: this is true or not true. Commentary, sequestered in its proper corner, seeks to add the author's unique perspective on the reporting. Even there, only The Times has taken to declaring this president a liar. The others in its weight class still stop short of presuming to know what exactly is in the man's head, journalism and commentary still being nonfiction genres.
This week, The Washington Post also broke from convention, reporting on a tip that didn't check out.
This is everyday stuff even at little papers: Someone tells an editor or reporter about something possibly newsworthy, often kind of crazy sounding but big if true. Then no empirical evidence can be found. No story. Not to say the tip was untrue, only that the reporting could not turn up anything legitimate enough to support a news story.
This time, a politically-inspired gotcha site, Project Veritas, apparently sought to discredit The Post with a woman falsely claiming to have been impregnated while a teenager by Alabama senatorial candidate Roy Moore.
The gambit was exposed in the course of basic reporting. But then The Post did a story on the attempt. That was different, and illuminating, also the most-read piece on their site Tuesday.
So here we are, the best journalists on the planet (just ask 'em) losing their collective heads, and others coolly turning the tables on a con job and making a story of their work. It's not every day a non-story is big news.
These are funny times. Everything's upside down.
But the cartoons? Got to say, not bad. Not bad at all.
Publisher Don Rogers can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 477-4299.
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