John O'Connell

Have journalists joined the march?


Americans by the hundreds of thousands traveled to the National Mall to joyfully witness the inauguration of President Trump. Millions more watched the ceremony on TV all over the globe. People who voted for Trump because they liked his attacks on the politically correct status quo or because they saw no positive future in more years of leftist policies were happy to see the executive branch of government finally controlled by a more can-do leader who talks back with strength, even harshness, to condescending, intolerant liberals.

Do you remember all those impartial thousand-word stories and lengthy TV interviews with articulate inauguration attendees talking about why they’re so optimistic for the nation now that Trump is president? You don’t?

There’s no better example of what sustains and delights Trump’s supporters than his attacks on a media that he and many others perceive as P.R. advocates for liberalism.

The day after his inauguration, millions of (mostly) women marched in cities all across the country and the world to protest his presidency, and millions more staunchly applauded them on social media.

While some progressives may have wished for a different candidate than Hillary Clinton to carry their banner, compared with Trump they had an easy choice. But with hopes for growth in liberal policies dashed when Trump unthinkably won, Clinton and Bernie Sanders voters, and many who didn’t vote at all, came out fiercely to declare the election and its horrible consequences unacceptable.

Do you remember the stories in newspapers and on TV about the marchers who plan to thwart the president’s hateful plans? Do you remember the daylong coverage of the angry, disaffected celebrities and marchers who mobilized to voice their disgust with Trump, the man, and to proclaim their outrage that he intends to dismantle or defund their cherished liberal institutions? Of course you do.

One celebrity proclaimed that “America is not the president,” which is as true now as it was when so many millions felt that President Obama was not America, either. Indeed, many of those millions who felt ignored and disparaged by Obama and the Democrats found Trump’s words most appealing.

But do you recall the many balanced stories that fairly and objectively contrasted the reasonable views on both sides? No? Well, there was one I know of: a well-photographed, five-minute fair video created by National Public Radio that let participants speak their minds. Those who demanded more one-sided coverage criticized NPR in comments on Facebook.

In this era of divisiveness and pugnacity on almost everything, abortion may be one of the original issues in hyper-dispute. Besides the hundreds of thousands who came out to support Trump’s inauguration and the many more who protested against him, several hundred thousand pro-life advocates marched in Washington, D.C., and many more locations across the nation last Friday.

According to a May 2016 Gallup poll, 69 percent of Americans believe abortion should be either legal only under certain circumstances (50 percent) or illegal in all cases (19 percent). Only 29 percent of Americans think abortion should be legal under any circumstances.

So, since most Americans think abortion should be illegal or legal only in certain circumstances, we’ve all been enlightened by the many heartwarming and informative media stories about women who chose to give birth instead of ending their babies’ lives, right? How about all those stories that sought to give readers an unbiased understanding of the issue through the voices of pro-life women and men? Wait. You can’t remember all those fair interviews of women who decided against abortion?

Big Ego Media devoted full newspaper pages and extensive TV reporting to coverage of the Women’s Marches, but offered relatively little news about the March for Life. Why? Could it be that many journalists ignore what they don’t advocate for?

How much do the media contribute to the national polarization that is so dug in that Facebook friends and real friends and members of real families are turning against one another? Do the national media feed the us-vs.-them, my-superior-ideas-vs.-your-ignorance attitudes?

I hope journalists regain an understanding of their roles as fair reporters. Americans will still have a muscular diversity of opinion on the important issues of our time. We need journalists to inform and enlighten, not to advocate for a side and feed the divisiveness. Journalists shouldn’t march with anti-administration protesters, nor should they march with pro-life activists.

Bad journalism advocates, takes sides, chooses subjects and angles that support a predetermined conclusion. It is a reflection of what the bad journalist thinks. Good journalism requires covering everything of interest to readers and viewers in a fair way. It is a reflection of the whole truth.

O’Connell retired as executive editor of the Herald Community Newspapers last year, after 20 years in journalism. Comments about this column?