10 Jun 2019          home

Journalism, Judy Woodruff, and Trump's Lies

Some people are upset with journalists who want to describe President Trump without stating whether he is lying. Cody Fenwick, senior editor at Alternet.org (Independent Media Institute), headlines that "Some media outlets still refuse to call out Trump’s lies for entirely bogus ." He writes:

Judy Woodruff of PBS NewsHour has made a ... claim about the policy of avoiding the word “lie” on her program: “We can’t know what’s in someone mind, so we’re much more comfortable with when somebody says something that cannot be born out by the facts, we say what they said was ‘inaccurate’ or ‘false.'”

In testifying before Congress, Trump's fix-it lawyer called Trump a liar, a cheat and con man. But Cohen was not acting as a journalist. He was testifying and offering his opinion based on his experiences. The journalists at PBS, it seems, would like to consider the possibility that at times Trump is confused about the facts or forgetful regarding his change of opinion or just sloppy with ambiguities.

Professionals like Judy Woodruff don't explain with detail where they are ideologically. She drops clues (inadvertently?) suggesting she is progressive, and I suspect she is liberal enough to want her viewers to work with the details provided by the News Hour to form their own opinions about Trump's intent. The role of the news-reader and that of the news-consumer is different. (Leave opinion journalism out of it.)

Regarding veracity or good judgment, I have my doubts about the following statements of three responding to Fenwick's article.

The first:

Judy Woodruff and the whole PBS staff has been totally neutered... I do understand that PBS does not want to suffer one more funding cut from the right wing zealots in the Republican Party and corporate world but in attempting to appease they have disintegrated into formless void. They have no light to shed on any major issue any longer.

Another:

PBS is under trump's control now, if you didn't notice, an absolute waste of time. Nazis fired all thinking heads and left the talking ones...I only watch PBS Kids now.

The third:

PBS has been under republican control for several decades now. I won't waste my time on them.

I confess that these opinions remind me of the journalist Jean-Paul Marat (1743-93), whose attacks on revolutionaries he didn't agree with (the Girondins) didn't help the French Revolution. It's a tough world. Even the old Bolsheviks had their disagreements (before they started killing each other). But cool down. We still have choices. (Check out TYT.com.) And in my opinion, people can or should find pleasure in calling Trump a liar occasionally. But I also think journalists at PBS should not abandon the good practices they learned when studying journalism.

I do wish, however, that PBS were more like that other public service broadcaster, the BBC.


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Copyright © 2019 by Frank E. Smitha. All rights reserved.