Defending labor, press rights in a Trump administration


By Peter Szekely
President, NewsGuild of New York

After a U.S. presidential campaign like none we've ever seen, came an election night shock like nothing we ever imagined. As union members and journalists, we face the prospect of a more hostile future. But we are not powerless. We have our values and our craft.

The campaign of Donald Trump stirred a wave of intolerance, and the press got its share. The routine at Trump rallies – a) confine journalists to pen, b) vilify them, c) point them out to whipped-up crowd –was getting dangerous enough to merit hostile environments training for campaign reporters.  

On his establishment-upending trail to Election Day where he seemed to break all political rules with impunity, Trump offended everyone who didn't fit his image of a once-great America. Those at the receiving end of his dog-whistle-to-bullhorn rhetoric included fellow Guild members: Muslims, Latinos, African Americans, the disabled and more. Yes, we take it personally. It offended all of us who embrace the union values of equal opportunity, social justice and tolerance.

And now, in the wake of last Tuesday's news jolt, we wonder whether the excesses of the Trump campaign will be prologue for the next four years. And how will we deal with that?

We need to be ready for battle as a union and as a media organization.

'We need to build solidarity like never before to mobilize and loudly defend our rights'

Aside from his stated opposition to trade deals, there’s nothing pro-worker about Trump. He has opposed increasing the minimum wage, favors union-crippling right-to-work laws and has refused to bargain with hotel workers in Las Vegas.

Just imagine a Trump National Labor Relations Board and federal judges, backed by anti-union majorities in Congress. We can’t pretend to be neutral about anything that would weaken the Guild as a union. We need to build solidarity like never before to mobilize and loudly defend our rights.

Meanwhile, the Trump phenomenon, and its support, cries out for thoughtful journalistic exploration if we’re ever going to understand it, and news organizations should encourage this.

With his divisive campaign rhetoric, it’s no surprise that Trump’s election was followed by a spike in incidents of hateful harassment and intimidation, including a few against Trump supporters, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center.  Meanwhile, tens of thousands of people have taken to the streets in recent days to declare, “He’s not my president,” just as Trump’s tweets urged Americans to do after Barack Obama’s re-election in 2012. And yet, his supporters are not all hate-filled bigots, as some reporting has shown. They include Asra Nomani, a Muslim single mother and former Guild member at Reuters and the Wall Street Journal.

Throughout the campaign, journalists dutifully reported Trump’s lies, inconsistencies and embarrassing statements – things that would have sunk any other candidate, and yet he still won the electoral vote. Did journalism fail? Not according to media critic Jack Shafer, who cites exit polling showing that 60 to 63 percent of voters viewed him unfavorably, said he was unqualified and lacked the temperament to be president. And yet, 15 to 20 percent of those people voted for him anyway.

There was no shortage of good reporting about the campaign. The challenge for journalists is to make facts relevant through credible reporting and to better understand the most disaffected voter blocs in the country.

Trump was often at war with the press during the campaign, banishing news outlets that angered him, threatening lawsuits and tweeting vitriol in the middle of the night. If some of his early appointments and transition team members are any indication, a Trump White House will be no less combative.

Holding President Trump accountable for his words and deeds is a sacred duty of the press for which there can be no compromise. If it’s met with continued hostility and threats to our freedoms, you will see the Guild on the front lines for the fight of our lives.

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