Today, August 16, the Denver Post published an editorial taking President Donald Trump to task for consistently branding any media coverage he doesn't like "fake news" as part of an effort of more than 200 newspapers across the country. Its defiant headline reads, "We Tell the Truth: Denver Post Decries Trump’s Attacks on Journalists."
Post editorial page-editor Megan Schrader knows that some political observers will see the project as playing into Trump's hands. But in her view, staying silent would have been unacceptable.
"I think it's appropriate for us to present a united front on this issue, because it goes to the very heart of what we do and what we're doing it for," Schrader says. "It's a call to action I couldn't turn down."
According to Schrader, she first heard about the project "when an editor from the Boston Globe's editorial pages sent me an email wanting to know if we wanted to participate. And obviously, the answer was yes."
Nonetheless, she was cognizant from the beginning about the plan's potential pitfalls — and they were reinforced by her conversation earlier this week with a Trump supporter from Frederick (a community shaken this morning following resident Christopher Watts's alleged confession to killing his pregnant wife and two daughters) shortly after news of the mass editorial approach broke.
"He said, 'This coordinated nationwide message looks to me like Trump is right — that the media is united against him,'" she recalls, "which is a fair criticism and a fair concern. I told him we are not united against President Trump on any policy positions other than his attack on the press."
Schrader's editorial directly addresses this Trump supporter's concerns, as well as the repercussions of sowing what she calls "a general distrust of what we do. Because we're covering the things that people need to know about to participate in society. This goes deeper than just the Russia investigation. There are other implications, too."
Given how much political bang for the buck the president has gotten out of branding journalists "the enemy of the people" (a new poll finds that the majority of Republican respondents agree with this characterization), Schrader had no doubt that he would fire back at the editorial barrage. And she was right. Moments ago, Trump tweeted this: "THE FAKE NEWS MEDIA IS THE OPPOSITION PARTY. It is very bad for our Great Country....BUT WE ARE WINNING!"
Schrader's take? Trump "seems not to like self-reflection," she believes. "When the media reports something negative about him, it's not that he thinks he needs to reconsider his policy positions, it's because it's fake news."
She uses as an example the President's rationale for policy shifts related to the separation of children from parents trying to cross into the United States from Mexico without proper documentation.
"He changed his position on family separation — and I think we can universally say the United States government should not be separating those families," Schrader allows. "But he also said the coverage was fake media, fake news, because this had been happening under Obama, and he was making a change despite the fact that it was happening under Obama."
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This untruth is hardly an isolated incident according to the Washington Post, which calculated in May that the president had made more than 3,200 false or misleading claims during his first 497 days in office, and could reach 10,000 at the end of his term if he keeps up his current pace. With that in mind, Schrader wrote the editorial in a way meant to enlist Trump supporters in a search for common ground.
"At the end of the day, hopefully, we can all say policy should be based on an agreed-upon number of facts — that they bring facts that support their argument and we bring facts that support our argument, and if we get them wrong, we run a correction," she notes.
The New York Times also participated in the editorial project, running excerpts from participating publications around the country in conjunction with a pitch to purchase a subscription from a newspaper near them. In Schrader's view, "If some people say, 'You're right. This is a danger. We believe in what the press is doing and we're going to subscribe and support,' I suppose that would be one measure of success."
The bottom line for Schrader: "The accusation that disagreeing with the president is fake news damages our society. It is creating a misinformed electorate, and a misinformed electorate is a dangerous thing."