Daily Bread for 10.15.22: For the Press, a Duty of Conduct as Though a Free Society Still Matters

Good morning.

Saturday in Whitewater will be partly sunny with a high of 53. Sunrise is 7:09 AM and sunset 6:11 PM for 11h 02m 15s of daytime. The moon is a waning gibbous with 70% of its visible disk illuminated.

There will be a Lakes Project Community Meeting at 10 AM

On this day in 1956, FORTRAN, the first modern computer language, is first shared with the coding community.

 An armed insurrection in a representative democracy is the violent effort of a horde claiming falsely to represent a majority to overthrow a constitutional order that does, in fact, represent the majority. That’s January 6th: a violent minority committed to preventing a constitutional process representing the majority. That’s Trump: the leader of a self-declared herrenvolk, inciting violence against the peaceful majority who rejected Trump at the polls.

This malevolent ilk would transform a free and prosperous continental republic into a stifling and stagnant European autocracy. 

The press in this free country will have to decide how to cover a third Trump campaign should there be one. (Those of us in other walks of life already know how to describe Trump: he aims to destroy this Republic and replace it with a herrenvolk state.) For her fellow journalists, Margaret Sullivan writes about how to cover Trump in If Trump Runs Again, Do Not Cover Him the Same Way [as Before]: A Journalist’s Manifesto

Now, six years later, we journalists know a lot more about covering Trump and his supporters. We’ve come a long way, but certainly made plenty of mistakes. Too many times, we acted as his stenographers or megaphones. Too often, we failed to refer to his many falsehoods as lies. It took too long to stop believing that, whenever he calmed down for a moment, he was becoming “presidential.” And it took too long to moderate our instinct to give equal weight to both sides, even when one side was using misinformation for political gain.

It’s been an education for all of us — a gradual realization that the instincts and conventions of traditional journalism weren’t good enough for this moment in our country’s history. As Trump prepares to run again in 2024, it’s worth reminding ourselves of the lessons we’ve learned — and committing to the principle that, when covering politicians who are essentially running against democracy, old-style journalism will no longer suffice.


From this new vantage point, it seemed self-evident that the mainstream press was too often going easy on Trump. Well into his presidency, journalists didn’t want to use the word “lie” for Trump’s constant barrage of falsehoods. To lie, editors reasoned, means to intend to be untruthful. Since journalists couldn’t be inside politicians’ heads, how were we supposed to know if — by this definition — they were really lying? The logic eventually became strained, given that Trump blithely repeated the same rank mistruths over and over.

Too many reporters and their editors didn’t seem to want to figure out how to cover Trump properly. From the moment he descended the golden escalator at Manhattan’s Trump Tower in June 2015 to announce his candidacy, the news media was in his thrall. Journalists couldn’t stop writing about him, showing him on TV and even broadcasting images of the empty stage waiting for him to arrive at a rally. Trump had described himself as “the ratings machine,” and for once he wasn’t exaggerating.


Those who deny the outcome of the 2020 election certainly don’t deserve a media megaphone for that enduring lie, one that is likely to reemerge in the presidential campaign ahead. But the media should go one step further: When covering such a politician in other contexts — for example, about abortion rights or gun control — journalists should remind audiences that this public figure is an election denier.

That’s exactly the model pursued by WITF, a public radio station in Harrisburg, Pa., which decided to remind its audience on a regular basis that some Republican state legislators and members of the Pennsylvania congressional delegation had opposed the transfer of power to Joe Biden, despite the lack of evidence to support their claims of election fraud. A story on the station’s website about a state legislator’s efforts to get Pennsylvanians vaccinated was accompanied by a sidebar of text about his behavior after the election. On-air stories have used a tagline to accomplish the same purpose. The decision wasn’t easy, one editor told me, “because this is not the normal thing.”

These are not normal times, and Trumpism is not a normal movement.

We who are rightly Never Trump, who have seen our much in own traditions of libertarianism (as mine) or principled conservatism infected by the lies and depredations of Trumpism, know how we are to write, speak, and conduct ourselves.

It would serve the press in this beleaguered free society to write and speak as though a free society still matters to them as much as it does to us.

Watch Martian moon Deimos pass in front of Jupiter & its moons:

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