A Moment of Truth for Journalists

Are you the people’s tribunes or are you props decorating the scene for a horrendous monologue?

A Moment of Truth for Journalists

White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer makes a statement to members of the media at the James Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House Jan. 21, 2017 in Washington, DC. This was Spicer's first press conference as Press Secretary where he spoke about the media's reporting on the inauguration's crowd size. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

It came to this, on Day 1 of the New Order: Trump’s press secretary, Sean Spicer, summoned reporters to a scolding more officially known as a “briefing,” in the course of which Spicer (1) lied to them repeatedly, (2) scolded them for lying, and (3) refused to permit questions. Andy Borowitz summarizes the scene nicely, in The New Yorker: “DISTURBED MAN GETS PAST WHITE HOUSE SECURITY, GIVES PRESS CONFERENCE.”

Reporters, you were cast as potted plants. You were expected not only to be stenographers with amnesia, but stenographers gagged.

So some of you did what you often do when you’re given short shrift. You shouted out questions. You groused. You speculated that Spicer had been held hostage by his Dear Leader.

Here’s a simple moral truth: Spicer is an adult. He’s responsible for his lies. It was his mouth from which the collective scold blasted forth. And you’re responsible for assuming a role in which your part is to sit there and be humiliated — made fools of.

Could it be any more evident that the liars are running the White House? Their idea of Q&A is: Shut up.

As long as you are mere stooges, you play their game. You serve as mute extras in his horror movie. You lend credence to outright falsehoods. You lend stature to serial liars.

I’m glad to see that some of you have stopped prettying up the horror show. This Times headline is exemplary: “With False Claims, Trump Attacks Media on Turnout and Intelligence Rift.” But all of you now have to burrow deep into your consciences. Do you want to contribute to the illusion that the gang in charge are democrats, that they respect evidence and logic, that they believe in fair play?

You, dear journalists, are the hostages as long as you play the game of the neo-fascists now running the country. I am well aware that “fascism” is an overused word but all its variants share two characteristics: The regime communicates one way, and it lies, and lies about having lied, and doesn’t care what you think.

Journalists, these are times that try not only your souls but your acumen, your professionalism, your fidelity to truth and your courage.

Todd Gitlin

Todd Gitlin is a professor of journalism and sociology and chair of the Ph.D. program in communications at Columbia University. He is the author of 16 books, including several on journalism and politics. His next book is a novel, The Opposition. Follow him on Twitter: @toddgitlin.