Journalists Unite! White House Attacks On Media Call for Collective Defense
By Grant Glickson
President, The NewsGuild of New York
Leading a union of journalists is a unique challenge in the arena of labor advocacy, where nothing is as powerful as solidarity.
Historically, journalists aren’t viewed as activists, but rather as observers. And though that is a required trait of the job, it’s not of the person. NewsGuild members know the value of a strong contract and voice at work, as they demonstrated en masse last week as part of our union’s fight to save The New York Times’ copy desk.
Solidarity isn’t a new term to journalists. But, for many, it’s a new tool. This union continues to stand up and behind its members as they collectively tell management that they demand a fair contract; they want health care; they deserve a pension. Our members are mobilized and energized. NewsGuild journalists understand the power of a single voice. It works.
It’s time for them to consider collective action for the greater good — for their readers and viewers, for the First Amendment and for democracy itself.
How much longer should journalists, and the rest of us, be subjected to the daily barrage of unprecedented and dishonest attacks on the media from the podium of the White House briefing room?
It became clear at the beginning of last week that reporters, individually at least, have had enough. Fed up with off-camera briefings, CNN’s Jim Acosta angrily called out Sean Spicer and proposed that journalists turn their cameras on anyway. The next day’s briefing allowed video, but it was quickly clear why: spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders wanted the world to see her berate CNN for a mistaken story on Trump-Russia ties, using the error to claim that everything journalists and investigators have turned up is a “hoax.”
Then, astonishingly and with a straight face, she urged those she slandered as “fake news” reporters to watch a charlatan’s video about CNN. “There’s a video circulating now — whether it’s accurate or not, I don’t know,” she said. “But I would encourage everybody in this room and frankly, everybody across the country, to take a look at it. I think if it is accurate, I think it’s a disgrace to all of media, to all of journalism.”
Whether it’s accurate or not? With that, credibility from the briefing room podium hit a new low, which is saying a lot.
That was two days before Sanders embarrassed herself defending the president’s ugly tweets attacking MSNBC’s Morning Joe hosts, lying outright that Trump “in no way, form or fashion has ever promoted or encouraged violence.” Three days later, Trump tweeted a video, altered from a pro-wrestling event he was part of years ago, that showed him pummeling an opponent whose head had been turned into the CNN logo.
Those indignities were still to come when Brian Karem blew his cool in the White House briefing room on June 27. An acclaimed journalist with a long and colorful career, including going to jail to protect a source, Karem is now the editor of a chain of suburban Washington, D.C., newspapers.
“What you just did is inflammatory to people all over the country who look at us and say, ‘See, once again, the president is right and everybody here is fake media,’ when everybody in this room is only trying to do their job,” Karem said after Sanders trashed CNN.
Not a word of it sunk in, with Sanders shamelessly telling Karem it was “outrageous for you to accuse me of inflaming a story.”
“We’ve been called the enemy of the people from that White House. We are bullied and browbeaten every day, and I pretty much have had enough of it,” Karem said the next day on Morning Joe. “If we don’t print what they want or broadcast what they like, then we’re automatically ‘fake media.’ It’s undermining the First Amendment.”
Earlier, Karem told Brian Williams that the White House wants Americans to believe that “We’re all in cahoots together, that we have a nefarious plan. The ‘nefarious plan,’ our only agenda, is to get the facts.”
When journalists make mistakes, they own up to them and face consequences, as three now-former CNN employees did last week. But there’s been no accountability for those hurling insults from White House podiums, banning journalists who displease them, ordering audio and video shut off at briefings and even laughing along with a president who thinks it’s funny to threaten reporters with bodily harm. The news media are losing their patience with disrespect and hypocrisy, and I’d say it’s high time.
I worked with some of the best journalists for many years at The New York Times. I understand that collective action doesn’t come naturally to them. Guild journalists, though, have the advantage of seeing it work, sending strong, united messages to the powers that be, as our members at The Times did last week.
Whether collective action in the White House briefing room means refusing to turn cameras on, defying orders to turn them off, walking out together during a combative briefing or some other tactic is for the experienced journalists in that room to decide. But one way or another, I urge them to act.
Continuing to be White House punching bags isn’t an option, and there’s good reason to fear that’s not just a figure of speech where some Trump supporters are concerned.
The White House demeanor toward the media is unacceptable, period. As Karem said, “It’s not good for this country. It’s got to be stopped and we’ve got to stand up to it, and more of us have to stand up to it every day.”