This Sunday on Meet the Press, the Wall Street Journal‘s editor-in-chief kicked off a media firestorm when he said that labeling president-elect Donald Trump‘s pathological practice of skewering the truth as ‘lies’ would be taking things a step too far — from a journalistic perspective.
“I’d be careful about using the word, ‘lie.’” WSJ’s Gerard Baker said. “‘Lie’ implies much more than just saying something that’s false. It implies a deliberate intent to mislead… I think if you start ascribing a moral intent, as it were, to someone by saying that they’ve lied, I think you run the risk that you look like you are — like you’re not being objective.”
That explanation didn’t go over very well with veteran journalist and news anchor Dan Rather, who slammed Baker’s seeming unwillingness to hold the incoming president accountable for his words.
In a Facebook post this Monday, Rather declared that good journalism consists of making powerful people know they’re being scrutinized to the highest standard.
“A lie, is a lie, is a lie,” Rather started out.
“Journalism, as I was taught it, is a process of getting as close to some valid version of the truth as is humanly possible,” he continued. “And one of my definitions of news is information that the powerful don’t want you to know.”
“It is not the proper role of journalists to meet lies—especially from someone of Mr. Trump’s stature and power—by hiding behind semantics and euphemisms,” Rather wrote. “Our role is to call it as we see it, based on solid reporting. When something is, in fact, a demonstrable lie, it is our responsibility to say so. As I have said before and will say as long as people are willing to listen, this is a gut check moment for the press. We are being confronted by versions of what are claimed to be ‘the truth’ that resemble something spewed out by a fertilizer-spreader in a wind tunnel. And there is every indication that this will only continue in the Tweets and statements of the man who will now hold forth from behind the Great Seal of the President of the United States.”
Rather shared a link from the Washington Post, where writer Greg Sargent argues that in anticipation of Trump utilizing his penchant for lying as a main strategy for his presidency, news organizations should be diligent in fact-checking Trump more than ever.
Rather concluded his post with a call to the news-consuming public.
“You as the paying, subscribing public, can use your leverage and pocketbooks to keep those who should be honest brokers of information, well, honest.”
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