A publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Bill Straub: Enough is enough is enough, it’s time for press corps to take the gloves off — and tell the truth

For better or worse, I spent six years back in the early 2000s as the White House correspondent for Scripps-Howard News Service.

Believe me, that’s neither a boast nor a brag, as George M. Cohan might say. I always remember the words of Ron Hutcheson, the one-time White House guy for Knight Ridder while we were sitting at a hotel bar in Waco, TX, with nothing to do but twiddle our thumbs while then-President George W. Bush allegedly cleared brush at his nearby ranch: “The best part of this job is telling people you have it.’’

Indeed, most of a White House reporter’s time is spent waiting for some official to come out and lie to you. Then you spend the next few hours chasing your tail, looking to clear up the worthless information that had been conveyed.

Yet, believe it or not, it’s an important job, sort of like a firefighter hanging around the station house sorting hoses. When the alarm goes off you catapult into action, like on Sept. 11, 2001, say, and in such dire occurrences, it’s vital that you have people who know what the hell they are doing on the scene. When Press Secretary Ari Fleischer steps to the podium on March 13, 2003, to announce that the United States had commenced bombing on Iraq, you don’t, or shouldn’t, want someone explaining matters who doesn’t know a SCUD missile from an entrenching tool, to paraphrase the great Tom Lehrer.

It’s also fulfilling to witness and paint a picture of something like President Bill Clinton leaving the Oval Office for the final time on Jan. 20, 2001.

So, despite the various obstacles and the endless pursuit to determine what’s really going on in the West Wing, it’s a worthwhile endeavor. Informing the public about the goings-on in its government is, indeed, a high calling.

The current president, Donald J. Trump (good lord in heaven), apparently doesn’t believe so. He constantly belches about “fake news’’ (a phrase that makes no sense, by the way, “phony’’ would be more apt, just saying), and maintains that reporters covering his disastrous administration are “liars,’’ “damned dishonest,’’ “crazy, “unpatriotic’’ and “unhinged’’ among other things, including the kicker, the “enemy of the people.’’

During one of his staged and ridiculous rallies in Kansas City recently, Trump prevailed on his crowd of sycophants to, “Stick with us. Don’t believe the crap you see from these people, the fake news.”

“What you’re seeing and what you’re reading is not what’s happening,’’ he said, adding an Orwellian twist.

The situation has reached the point where A.G. Sulzberger, publisher of The New York Times, met with the current White House occupant in an effort to get him to tone down the rhetoric, asserting that Humpty-Trumpty’s language “was not just divisive but increasingly dangerous.”

“I told him that although the phrase ‘fake news’ is untrue and harmful, I am far more concerned about his labeling journalists ‘the enemy of the people,'” Sulzberger said. “I warned that this inflammatory language is contributing to a rise in threats against journalists and will lead to violence.’’

Sulzberger would have done better to bring a pacifier or lollypop for the big baby to suck on. The meeting was supposed to be private but Trumpster, who simply is not to be trusted, broke that confidentiality via Twitter. He ultimately proclaimed, “I will not allow our great country to be sold out by anti-Trump haters in the dying newspaper industry.’’

To quote Twain: “Why not even a burglar could have said it better.’’

Now, permit me to speak for a bit as a former member of the White House press corps.

I really could care less about what this boob says, and I would have felt the same way during my White House tenure. Jimmy Breslin once said of reporters, “You’re supposed to be despised.’’ Trump’s opinion of the press means nothing. A reporter’s task is to be adversarial. In a way, if he’s complaining, you’re winning. If you have thin skin, and it’s a condition that appears to plague a lot of scribes these days, you might consider another profession.

Trump is a Know-Nothing – both as an individual and as a throwback to the old Know Nothing Party of the 1850s that was xenophobic, hostile to immigration and anti-Semitic. He is a fraud, a cheat, a grifter, a four-flusher, a scalawag and just about every other negative description that can be weened from Roget’s Thesaurus. Why in the world would any journalist worth his or her salt, including a publisher like Sulzberger, give his garbage any credence?

This slug, according to a recent account in The Washington Post, in his first 558 days in office, made 4,229 false or misleading claims. And since he repeats many of them after they’ve been publicly debunked – over the past five months the lunatic has falsely claimed on 30 occasions that his darling wall along the Mexican border is being built even though Congress has denied funding for it – they have to be considered downright flagrant lies.

In other words, the claims of “fake news’’ are spewing from the mouth of a canard who burps up untruths at the rate of more than seven per day. How in the name of God’s little acre can anyone believe a word that rolls out of his mouth? As Mary McCarthy famously said about Lillian Hellman, “Every word she writes is a lie, including and and the.’’

Frankly, it’s becoming quite apparent that there’s something wrong with this guy. His statements are unworthy of serious consideration and the sooner this embarrassment is gone the better. Let him rant and rave. Does anyone honestly believe that reporters are supposed to be there to please him?

It is time, however, for the press to tell the whole truth – call his lies what they are, lies, and emphasize that he has neither the ability, nor the fortitude, nor the character to be the leader of the free world. Shying away from these facts – and they are facts – is cheating the America public. The idea that you can treat Humpty-Trumpty with a semblance of respect like one would any other president when he himself refuses to afford that privilege to anyone, is shading and dancing around the real story.

There should only be one instruction given to a reporter – do your job and tell the truth. Failing to show that Trump is a liar and a danger to the Republic may be telling part of the truth, but certainly not the whole truth.

It’s time to take the gloves off.

The NKyTribune’s Washington columnist Bill Straub served 11 years as the Frankfort Bureau chief for The Kentucky Post. He also is the former White House/political correspondent for Scripps Howard News Service. A member of the Kentucky Journalism Hall of Fame, he currently resides in Silver Spring, Maryland, and writes frequently about the federal government and politics. Email him at williamgstraub@gmail.com.

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