Reporting the Truth in the Post-Trump Era

by Chris Saxman

When I was a teacher of U.S. History and Government, I had only one rule for my students and it was that they think. I told them flat out:

I don’t care what you think – I care that you think. Time will take care of the rest.

Their thinking was dependent upon being able to access facts and alternative lines of thought so that they would be challenged to actually think deeply versus reacting emotionally.

Today, kids call that “adulting.”

In order for me to make 17th and 18th century U.S. History interesting for late 20th century high school students, I had to make it relevant to their lives. So, we would talk a great deal about current events and apply them back to whatever time we were discussing in our curriculum. In that way, our history would come alive for them and they would then dive deeper into their studies.

Whenever students offered an opinion, I would challenge them with the opposite view making them defend their thinking. As a result, they also challenged my own thinking and it made me grow intellectually as well as professionally.

Essential to the entire proposition of educating our people is having access to those aforementioned facts and alternative lines of thinking.

One of the hallmarks or cornerstones of the American experiment in republican democracy has been our institution of investigative journalism — finding out what really happened and why.

Sadly, that institution is being replaced with partisan journalism and it’s a very real threat to the future of our republic. Our adversaries know it and are exploiting it in order to deepen our divisions.

This is not a knock on either side of the political spectrum. Both sides do it. It’s just simply calling balls and strikes or as Zig Ziglar said:

The first step in solving a problem is to recognize that is does exist.

This is an easy diagnosis – we have a problem.

Last week, Virginia Republican gubernatorial nominee, Glenn Youngkin, put out a policy platform on ending human trafficking that should have made news. It didn’t. The Washington Times, a conservative outlet, ran a story that got all of eleven likes and five retweets on Twitter.

(If a tree falls in a forest and no one hears it…)

Meanwhile, a sports reporter for Harrisonburg’s Daily News Record got 12 retweets and 20 likes for his story/tweet about a local high school’s new athletic director.

Just days after Juneteenth is made a national holiday to celebrate the ending of slavery and during Pride Month, which celebrates the LGTBQ community, a statewide candidate comes up with a plan to end a modern-day slave trade of people who are disproportionately LGTBQ/People of Color (too many of whom are MINORS) and there was almost NO COVERAGE.

Not one Virginia newspaper saw fit to cover a policy proposal on human trafficking.

Sexual exploitation. Modern day slavery. Here. Now. Today. Hundreds of thousands of times a year.

Was the subject just too icky? Or worse was it partisan – does it help Youngkin counter their narrative about Virginia Republicans? Is the press this partisan or just unable to cover statewide campaigns anymore? Or both? Either way, it’s not good.

The reality (a.k.a. facts) combines illegal immigration, the illicit drug trade, child rape, the dark side of social media, AND the sexual exploitation of LGTBQ/ People of Color. Just to name a few.

No coverage.

It’s bad enough when the two primary cable news outlets — Fox News and MSNBC — have to ADMIT IN COURT that their top rated “anchors” — Tucker Carlson and Rachel Maddow- – do not report fact-based news. (Let’s be honest, pissed off people = ratings. REALLY pissed off = REALLY good ratings.)

Is it also bad when important issues are simply ignored? Or is it worse than just bad when both side agree that yes, in fact, human trafficking is a scourge and therefore is not a controversy? Can’t we have that? Ya know, both sides agreeing on a scourge in order to — ya know — stop it somehow?

What harm would it have been to say Glenn Youngkin is trying to do something about human trafficking, then list  his ideas, and then call his opponent for a comment? Like Terry McAuliffe is going to be anything but Also Against Human Trafficking?

Fox and MSNBC have admitted IN COURT that their business is hyperbolic entertainment and that their audiences should know this! That’s their business model.

What’s the excuse of every mainstream media outlet in Virginia?

Was Donald Trump with his some of his Fake News! Sad! Tweets? Yes.

All of the press? No, of course not.

Was Donald Trump wrong when he called the press “the enemy of the people?”
Also yes — that was very wrong and dangerously so.

This is a real problem.

The press wastes zero time trying to find the slightest whiff that democracy is dying yet fail miserably to point the finger at themselves as being part of that problem.

One of my favorite journalists is Matt Taibbi. He knows we have a problem and is willing to call out his own industry. That’s healthy. We all should listen to our critics. They’re usually, but not always, right. The review process can be very productive and therapeutic.

Taibbi wrote these must-reads back in January – We Need a New Media System and The Sovietization of the American Press and is a self-described progressive but is, thankfully, an honest one. Taibbi makes me think and it’s not always comfortable. He’s a good teacher that way.

Here’s a great interview Taibbi did with News Nation. Read those columns and watch/listen to this powerful indictment of American journalism. His advice on solving the problem is for journalists to be as accurate as possible in their reporting and letting the public make the political decisions.

This commentary is not directed at anyone journalist or publication. Far from it. Their industry – an important institution in our democratic republic — is undergoing a massive transformation as is the rest of our society.

During these times, and we have had similar ones in our past, it is absolutely critical to simply report the facts and leave the decision making to us.

That’s our job, but we also have to show that we can be trusted with the truth. Trust and truth are in short supply these days and both are needed to turn this terrible, divisive trend which is only being accelerated by plummeting cable “news” ratings.

We can handle the truth as long as we can trust it being so.

Time will take care of the rest.

Chris Saxman is executive director of Virginia FREE. This column has been republished with permission from his Substack newsletter The Intersection.

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29 responses to “Reporting the Truth in the Post-Trump Era”

  1. I don’t mind pundits or commentators being advocates so long as they “wear their hearts on their sleeves” and are candid and transparent about what they are doing. I do object to members of the media trying to masquerade their opinions and advocacy as factual reporting. The public’s low level of trust in the media is warranted by the media’s general failure to conscientiously try to separate factual news reporting from editorializing.

    1. LarrytheG Avatar

      At the same time, we have “media” that is actively misrepresenting issues, lying and propagating misinformation and even conspiracy theories but not condemnation from the folks who say they don’t “trust” the conventional media.

      If you want the truth about an issue, where do you go these days?

      I know WaPo and NYT are biased, no question, but IMHO, they seldom promote outright lies, disinformation and conspiracy theories like a lot of other so-called media does.

      We now have public officials who are receiving death threats based on reporting that is false. I’m pretty sure it’s not WaPo and NYT times that does stuff like that.

  2. DJRippert Avatar

    “Was Donald Trump wrong when he called the press “the enemy of the people?”
    Also yes — that was very wrong and dangerously so.”

    Why is that wrong and dangerously so?

    Your column points out that Tucker Carlson and Rachael Maddow are entertainers pretending to be journalists. Doesn’t that pretense make them, as part of “the press”, enemies of the people? It seems to me that it does.

    Going beyond the press, I would clearly say that social media is an enemy of the people. The greasy fingered merchants of greed in the major social media outlets have figured out a few things …

    First, you get more eyeballs for longer durations if you match people with the opinions of people who believe the same things. This creates an echo chamber that amplifies the entertainment lies masquerading as news from the likes of Maddow and Carlson.

    Second, “us vs them” messages get more eyeballs for longer durations. This feeds the fire for ever more of the Maddow / Carlson entertainment lies. A barely noticed segment by Maddow gets new life as it is linked on a barage of social media posts. This accelerates the circulation of entertainment lies.

    Third, this is all done so that America’s crazy consumer society can expand as companies advertise things nobody really needs using personal data that has been legally stolen by the boatload.

    American democracy will take a big step toward healing the day that Twitter and Facebook get thrown on the ash heap of history.

    1. Publius Avatar

      I agree with the riposte on saying Trump’s criticism was dangerous. Remember the “recognize the problem” part? Harsh? Yes. Dangerous? No. Going after the journalists (like Obama did and SlowJoe is supposedly doing), THAT’S dangerous.

  3. DJRippert Avatar

    Matt Taibbi has been one of my favorites since he declared Goldman Sachs (aka Golden Stacks) vampire squids.

    Here is a more recent skewering of the hypocrisy of Nancy Pelosi and other supposed liberals in Congress …

    1. LarrytheG Avatar

      Your source of reading says it all, though.

      1. Publius Avatar

        SCIENCE! to the rescue – not making a valid point, just saying the source doesn’t match his lofty intellect…

        Using Larrogic – Larry as the source of the comment says it all…
        Ergo propter hoc – NOT VALID
        Two can play the Larry disqualification game.

        1. DJRippert Avatar

          Publius, Please don’t feed the trolls. They are a health hazard. Their droppings attract flies, fleas, rats and other disease carrying pests.

          1. LarrytheG Avatar

            talk about “trolls”. 😉

        2. LarrytheG Avatar

          No Science. Just media. What kind of Media? How does it compare to other media in terms of truth telling and accuracy?

          ” On May 19, 2006, the newspaper ran two pieces alleging that the Iranian parliament had passed a law requiring religious minorities to wear special identifying badges. One piece was a front-page news item titled “IRAN EYES BADGES FOR JEWS” accompanied by a 1935 picture of two Jews bearing Nazi-ordered yellow badges. Later on the same day, experts began coming forward to deny the accuracy of the Post story. The story proved to be false, but not before it had been picked up by a variety of other news media and generated comment from world leaders. Comments on the story by the Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper caused Iran to summon Canada’s ambassador to Tehran, Gordon E. Venner, for an explanation.”

          1. Publius Avatar

            Wow – Larrogic and SCIENCE! to the rescue.
            The source that Larry impugns got something wrong before. Still no response to the article.
            Meanwhile, 4 years of RUSSIA! It’s racist to call it China Flu! It came from a bat 1000 miles away to a pangolin to a human in the wet market! Mask! Don’t mask! Double Mask! We’re all gonna die – the Delta variant -(which Mr. Science has dutifully pumped on behalf of his leaders) – everybody must get vaccinated or we will all die! The LCPS teacher refuses to call a girl a boy or is it vice versa?
            Sorry, DJR…you throw the softball over the middle of the plate, it’s hard not to swing… I’ll try better next time.

          2. LarrytheG Avatar

            Pubulis – I might respond to you if you were not all over the map and spewing Trump-loving Ad Homs to boot…

      2. DJRippert Avatar

        Your source of logic says it all. I performed an internet search on “Matt Tiabbi” and “Nancy Pelosi” to find the article I remembered reading. I saw an entry for a periodical that was not behind a paywall so I linked to it.

        I have no idea what the National Post is or is not. Needless to say, that is irrelevant. Matt Tiabbi is a self-described progressive. He wrote the article, not some ghost of a conservative conspiracy theory that exists in your mind.

        1. LarrytheG Avatar

          Yep – I know how ya’ll do it. And the give-away when you do that search is how many other right-wing sites have the same story, some of them almost word-by-word.

          But that is what you are actually looking for – not news or media but the narrative you want.

          Wben a given news source does not report of all news but just partisan news and one-sided AND they’ve been involved in misinformation and disinformation – they’re not a reliable and legitimate news source and even the folks that cite them for confirming their partisan inclinations DON’T cite them for non-partisan news, they go back to WaPO and NYT for that.

          Talking about “trolling’! yepper

      3. WayneS Avatar

        What difference does that make? The National Post reported on what Matt Taibbi wrote/said, but it was Matt Yaibbi who wrote/said it.

        The story was not even original to National Post – it was “…republished with permission from TK News by Matt Taibbi”.

        1. LarrytheG Avatar

          It makes a difference the reputation of the media in reporting news overall. Are they a legitimate source of news across the spectrum or are they primarily focused on partisan issues.

          Do they print stories that other media print such that they’re often nearly identical – rather than originally sourced news they themselves generated?

          If a given media does a wide variety of news across the spectrum – using original sourced reporting and they do not engage in outright lies and conspiracy theories, disinformation, misinformation, not once, but a pattern of it, etc, I see them differently than the ones that do.

          1. WayneS Avatar

            Floating from Slate River to Cartersville they’ll pass right by the tank.

            Here’s a full size photo of it in all it’s rusting glory.


            Oops. It looks like I posted this to the wrong conversation. Sorry about that.

          2. LarrytheG Avatar

            is alright…. thanks.. the Coastal Canoeists is the Va paddling club and they paddle this section…and I have with them some time ago…so your emoj jogged my memory once then the Batteau pix confirmed.

  4. LarrytheG Avatar

    As far as I can tell, Maddow made that one error and even then the Judge awarded her 250K in damages.

    Carlson, on the other, hand, just about every night he’s promoting some lie or conspiracy therory – and he’s not alone not only on FOX but other right-wing media and organizations like Q-anon.

    There are few folks on the left promoting conspiracy theories – unlike the right which has dozens or more engaged in it.

    You have folks that believe the election was stolen. You have public officials, and election officials, even public health officials, who are receiving death threats – and not from “leftists”, but from the right.

    How many went to Washington to invade the Capitol? Does Mr. Saxman think that had nothing to do with FOX and the right-wing media and websites, blogs, etc?

    I think Mr. Saxman is, like a number of others, is actually refusing to deal with the obvious realities and playing the Trump “both sides” game.

  5. LarrytheG Avatar

    I do not rely on one media much less one person to help me deal with facts and reality. I actually think that is exceptionally dangerous.

    I also am entirely suspicious of ANY media that provides reporting and narratives that AGREE with my own thinking, my biases – that can be confirmed.

    So I look at a range of media including Conservative media to try to discern what is true and what is not and what is propaganda, misinformation and disinformation.

    When Trump say the mainstream media is the enemy of the people and then he cites media that is promoting conspiracy theories and worse – the threat to this country could not be more dire.

    It’s the way that despots take over countries. We’ve seen it many times before and it’s ongoing.

    No, WaPo and NYT are anything but perfect, and they’ve got their biases but 24/7 they report largely facts on a wide range of issues – and the irony is that their opponents cite them for fact-based reporting on issues that are not partisan – BECAUSE the partisan media simply does not report on much of anything beyond the partisan issues…

    We complain about “investigative journalism”. Show me some Conservative media that excels at this? Their idea of investigative media is project Veritas!

    1. DJRippert Avatar

      Even by the low bar standard of your typical commentary this is quite an effort. First you insist that you are “entirely suspicious” of any media that confirms your own biases. In a later comment you bypass the content of author Matt Tiabbi’s article to rant about the National Post because of some kerfuffle from 2006. You then heap praise on the WaPo and the NYT which are well known to confirm you biases. The NYT “1619 Project” was a clear confirmation of that. Finally, you attack sources which you consider conservative (without commenting on the actual material) more often than all of the other commenters on the blog added together attack sources for any reason.

      1. LarrytheG Avatar

        I don’t “heap praise” , I tell the truth – 95% of what they print is truly fact-based and, in fact, quoted by their opponents when their opponents are not talking about partisan issues.

        Tell me about the National Post and Tiabbi when it comes to non-partisan issues. Do they do general news – across the spectrum like WaPo and NYT – and let me add WSJ here, ditto?

        If you want FACTS on an issue that is NOT partisan – who do you like?

        1. tmtfairfax Avatar

          It’s also what the Post doesn’t publish. Like Ralph Northam’s blackface antics. And personally, the double refusal of the Post to publish an op-ed I wrote on UVA & VDOT’s study showing overweight trucks did more than $100 M in damages each year to roads and that overweight permit fees covered a mere fraction of this. I was told the facts were inconsistent with the Post’s belief that tax increases were needed.

          1. LarrytheG Avatar

            I agree with you – WaPO IS biased and obviously so at times but they also print a full range of other news that is fully accurate and if not, they issue corrections. Even those that say they hate the Post and call it fake, will turn right around and quote another article they like – because on balance, it does print accurate news , not lies, does not promote misinformation or conspiracy theories like a lot of other “media” does do.

            On the trucks which you talk about frequently, I think you might be wrong guy.

            Where is the data that proves your premise, and can you show other states that charge more and have less damage?

            Do you realize that it’s the Feds that set construction standards on Interstates and US-signed roads? Nothing to do with VDOT or Northam.

    2. WayneS Avatar

      Yes, despots are dangerous.

      By the way, how many movie-makers were imprisoned by the Trump administration for saying things Trump did not like? And how many under the Obama administration?

      1. LarrytheG Avatar

        Do I really care if you’re doing partisan cherry-picking?

        How many people did Trump investigate who were on his own staff?

        How many people did other POTUS engage with twitter at 3am that had nothing to do with government?

        How many people did other POTUS – FIRE on social media?

        Trump was an effing idiot. No two ways about it.
        And a dire threat to the country, and still is.
        IMHO of course.

        1. WayneS Avatar

          I would much rather have a president post mean tweets about me for disagreeing with him/her, or even fire me for disagreeing with him/her, than to have him/her throw me in prison for disagreeing with him/her.

          But to each his own I guess.

          1. LarrytheG Avatar

            More than “mean” tweets. They illustrated the width and depth of how corrupt he was and still is.

            He essentially destroyed our relationship with our allies at the same time he was “loving” dictators like Kim Jong-un. He fired State Department experts on Russia and Ukraine and corrupted the State Dept and DOJ. Fired the head of DOD and the Navy over loyalty to him.

            He propagated conspiracy theories, supported organizations like Unite the Right and Q-anon, etc.

            Even now, he is propagating conspiracy theories and encouraging threats against public health officials and election officials.

            You seriously think he did good things for the country, or he was the better alternative?

            I think you guys who think that are off your rockers, to use a quaint term.

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