A boomer, a journalist, has had enough

Plenty of baby boomers defend the behavior of Donald Trump (and some will surely comment on this piece). But plenty more are offended by it, and one of them is longtime journalist and co-founder of BoomerCafé, Greg Dobbs. He would call Trump’s latest disdain for journalism the last straw… except his experience shows, there are even more straws still out there.

President Trump, in his relations with journalists, used to be just a horrible man. Fake News, Enemy of the People, and all that.

Now he has taken it up a notch: he is a horrible, horrible man.

He’s even more horrible than before, because he has gone so personal against journalists. As if they are there to simply regurgitate what he says, not to question it. As if the White House belongs to him, not to the American people.

It doesn’t.

Thomas Jefferson knew that. He appreciated journalism’s role as a check and balance on government. He famously avowed that if he had to choose between “a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.”

Yet last week, as you no doubt know, Trump made clear his contempt for checks and balances. He pulled the press credential from CNN’s White House correspondent because he doesn’t blindly believe every word the president utters. He told off another CNN reporter, saying she “asks a lot of stupid questions” (because she asked him whether he would have his new attorney general “rein in” special counsel Robert Mueller, which is precisely what the president himself had said he wanted recently-fired AG Jeff Sessions to do).

And all in the same week, Trump called a PBS correspondent’s question “racist” after she asked if his rhetoric encourages white nationalists, and described yet another White House journalist as a “loser” who “doesn’t know what the hell she is doing.” And of course before God and everybody, he denounced the banned CNN correspondent, Jim Acosta, as “a rude, terrible person.” For doing his job.

Trump berates Jim Acosta of CNN as a White House intern attempts to grab the microphone from Acosta’s hand during a news conference on November 7, 2018. (Photo: NBC News)

Maybe most of all, Donald Trump’s even more horrible because he hasn’t stopped calling us “the enemy of the people,” as if Americans would be better off if their president were never challenged.

Thomas Jefferson knew differently.

So did Ronald Reagan. Millions of baby boomers, and maybe some younger Americans as well, will remember Sam Donaldson, the White House correspondent for ABC News. I was Sam’s producer for a while and when I became an ABC correspondent myself, he became my role model.

Why? Because he treated important people like presidents with respect, but not submissiveness. He understood that they weren’t sacred or sometimes even very special. He realized that just like the rest of us, to quote a cliché, they put their pants on one leg at a time. He knew that at the end of the day, they work for us and not the other way around.

In covering the White House under both Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan, Sam practiced his craft accordingly.

Reagan got that. Sometimes assigned by ABC as an extra White House correspondent, I was there a few times when the president’s press secretary would declare a presidential appearance a “photo op,” meaning pictures only, no questions. But if there was a question that needed to be asked to inform the American people about the issue of the day, Sam would shout it out, restrictions be damned.

Or sometimes the president was crossing the White House lawn to board his helicopter to fly off somewhere, and Sam would scream out a question in his booming baritone about an issue, and if the president didn’t want to answer, he’d cup his hands over his ears as if to say, “Sorry, can’t hear you.” Sam had a right to ask a question, the president had a right to pretend he couldn’t hear it.

But Reagan never called Sam a “loser,” or “racist,” or “stupid,” or “a rude, terrible person.” Because Sam was just doing his job.

Like Thomas Jefferson, Reagan understood the import of that job. Or at the very least, that he had to abide it. There is an illustrative tale from the day ABC News opened a bigger brighter bureau in Washington. President Reagan graced us with an appearance. But while he was making his casual remarks, in a newsroom packed to the gills with journalists, Sam shouted out a question about something in the news that needed to be asked.

Greg Dobbs

None less than the president of ABC News, a guy named Roone Arledge, interrupted Sam in front of the crowd, saying something like “Sam, the president is here to honor us right now, not to answer questions.” Inexcusably, Sam’s boss was trying to silence Sam. But he failed, mainly because the president himself interceded, flashing his million dollar smile: “That’s okay, Roone. It’s just Sam being Sam.” Meaning, he is free to ask his questions. I am free to answer or not. That day, he did.

Defaming, demeaning, demonizing his perceived enemies is nothing new for Donald Trump. He has done the same with presidential primary opponents, with war heroes, with Gold Star families. Trump revels in it. He brags about it.

And there’s nothing about journalists that makes us any more untouchable than those others.

But there is something about journalism itself. Those who practice it are the people’s representatives at the White House. It is only because of them that any of us knows what a president is up to, let alone finds out what’s behind it. I’d like to see how the media’s harshest critics would like it if suddenly their only source for scoops was Sarah Huckabee Sanders.

Maybe those critics ought to spend a little time in some of the 80-plus nations where I’ve covered news. Nations where journalists are beholden to their governments, and therefore only report what the government wants them to report. If they don’t, they can lose their children’s placement in quality schools, their domicile in decent homes, their jobs, sometimes even their very lives.

This kind of compliance seems to be what Donald Trump wants. Which is why he’s a horrible, horrible president. And a horrible, horrible man.

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8 Comments

  1. Bravo Greg. You are spot on.

    From a Canadian perspective, Trump is not only a horrible human being, but a dangerous one. What is even more unbearable is that no one in his party has stood up to him. What good are checks and balances, when people are too scared to check an imbalanced autocrat.

    1. Don Caplan and Greg Dobbs, I totally agree with you. If we want to protect our democracy and remain a leader of the free world, freedom of the press and journalism must not only survive but thrive. It is one of the most important checks and balances of our government, and must not be restricted. Transparency is also an issue with this Presidency and administration. I for one, can’t wait for a more intelligent, compassionate, honest and responsible person in the Oval Office who chooses to “commend” instead of “command” our press. Any one knows the President is a highly sensitive person and constantly demands respect and loyalty, but never reciprocates unless it portrays him in a positive way. That’s not the way it should be, and never will. The press deserves, and we deserve much better representation in the White House.

  2. Trump acts like a horrible, ill mannered CEO of a massive business enterprise when confronted by the press and not a head of state where diplomacy is the order of the day. Have we heard Merkel or May bad mouthing him? I was horrified by his rude tweet about Macron. It was so ignorant and childish. Just because Trump doesn’t know the difference between nationalism and patriotism doesn’t give him the right to sneer at a better educated head of state. Yes, Macron undoubtedly was thinking of Trump when he made his comments about how countries should behave but he was clever and not downright rude. If the press has become increasingly confrontational with Trump, he owes it to his own blatant lack of knowledge, inability to cope under pressure and downright rudeness. He was rude to the UK’s Channel 4’s anchor man John Snow at the same press conference. A horrible, horrible man indeed.

  3. When the President of a country incites it citizenry to engage in violence, not against a foreign enemy but against each other, it is a call to civil war. He is not just a horrible individual, he’s leading us to the edge of a precipitous class of ideology that may not be recoverable.

  4. As you all badmouth Trump, you should remember he wasn’t elected because he was a politician. He was elected because he wasn’t. So don’t expect him to behave like a politician. Expect him to behave like a CEO with a job to do and you’ll be much happier. Oprah interviewed him on her show in 1988 and asked him what he would do if he were President. His answers then are what he is doing now, and she loved it then. Oh, he’s not a Democrat? He’s horrible, horrible.
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GZpMJeynBeg

    1. Denver, while many people didn’t expect Donald Trump to act like a politician, we DID expect, and have a right to expect Trump, to at least act like a human being. The fact is Trump has behaved like a socio-path his whole life. When he 13 years old, he threw rocks at a neighbor’s little boy in his playpen. He also tormented his teachers in school. Trump’s father sent him away to a military-style boarding school to try to knock some sense into him. How do we know these stories? Kids grow up and talk about it. Especially when they remember that same big mean kid who grew up craving media attention and eventually ran for president. By the way, Donald Trump WAS a registered Democrat for many more years than a Republican. Personally, I’m so glad he changed parties.

  5. The good news is Trump’s withdrawing of CNN’s James Acosta’s hard press pass was invalidated by a DC court judge whom Trump had appointed. How’s that for poetic justice?

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