Shouldn’t there be somebody to defend Donald Trump?
Opinion page editors have been wrestling that question for over a year. A good opinion editor, you see, prides herself on ideological balance, mixing and matching pundits who reliably leave the conservative right gnashing its teeth with those who routinely leave the progressive left rending its garments.
But Trump has thrown that balance into disarray.
It’s easy to find progressive writers willing to lambaste him. But as more than one editor has lamented, when they look for balance to writers on the right who can usually be depended upon to defend a conservative Republican, it turns out they view him with similar scorn.
I once heard an editor muse about maybe making a concerted effort to find new voices willing to stick up for Trump, but to me, that smacks of false equivalence – and obscures an important point. If writers who unstintingly praised George W. Bush, John McCain and Mitt Romney are unwilling to champion this guy, is that not visceral confirmation of what an outlier he really is?
The Trump question, though, is just a subset of a larger one. Namely, how should mainstream news media deal with the fever swamp of conspiracy, lies and hogwash that produced and sustains him? To put it another way: should crazy have a place in the public square?
USA Today says yes. A few days ago, it published a column that raised eyebrows – and blood pressures – among progressives. It wasn’t the writer’s opinion – teachers should be armed – that rattled them. It was, rather, the writer himself.
Jerome Corsi is a birther who heads the Washington bureau of InfoWars, the conspiracy theory empire of Alex Jones. He’s the guy who says the Newtown massacre never happened and who once promoted claims of Hillary Clinton running a child sex ring out of a pizzeria. As Media Matters put it, “No serious outlet should elevate Corsi’s opinion.”
But USA Today did. In a statement to the Daily Beast, editorial page editor Bill Sternberg defended his decision: “USA Today’s Opposing View shows readers more than one point of view on an issue. Our signature debate format reinforces our reputation for fairness, which is one of our core values.”
Which is disingenuous on two counts: One, it’s not really the “point of view” people are objecting to, but the author thereof. Two, while fairness is, indeed, a core value, nothing about fairness precludes the obligation to use judgment.
Sternberg implicitly pretends otherwise, but ask yourself: If the paper ran a piece condemning child molestation, would it feel compelled to offer an opposing view from a pedophile?
Of course not. Journalists like to pretend judgment is not part of what we do but it is, in fact, at the heart of it.
This is not an abstract argument. Mainstream news media have been frustratingly slow to realize that we are under attack. A recent Washington Post story documents how, just 47 minutes after news broke of the shooting in Parkland, online conspirators were already building their “crisis actors” narrative. Forty-seven minutes. There were still bodies on the floor.
“There’s a war going on outside,” one anonymous poster wrote, “…and it is only partially being fought with guns. The real weapon is information and the attack is on the mind.”
So yes, this is coordinated. It is intentional.
That’s why USA Today’s decision to legitimize Jerome Corsi is appalling. He represents forces that threaten not simply news media, but ultimately, the nation. Yes, fairness is one of our core values.
But isn’t common sense one, too?
Leonard Pitts Jr. is a columnist for the Miami Herald. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.