When an Op-Ed Becomes a “White House Press Release”

President Donald J. Trump

Today the USA Today published an op-ed by President Donald Trump that some believe contains factual inaccuracies. In the piece, Trump asserts that Democrats “would end Medicare as we know it and take away benefits that seniors have paid for their entire lives.” Glenn Kessler, the Washington Post’s Fact Checker Columnist, said Trump’s claim about Medicare cuts was misleading if not downright false. “[Trump’s assertion that] ‘Democrats have already harmed seniors by slashing Medicare by more than $800 billion over 10 years to pay for Obamacare’ … is a tired 2012 talking point. Seniors were not ‘harmed.’ The solvency was extended and benefits were expanded,” he said in a tweet. Kessler went on to correct what he saw as other falsehoods in the op-ed.

Others were more direct, asserting the op-ed was full of lies and was nothing more than a partisan attack.  Dan Gillmor who runs the News Co/Lab at Arizona State University, reacted in a tweet saying, “Publishing this op-ed is journalistic malpractice. It is full of outright lies, easily demonstrated lies. Disgraceful.” Chip Stewart, professor of journalism at Texas Christian University said that the newspaper should have reined in Trump. “When you know the president is going to be using your pages for partisan purposes and is going to more than just stretch the truth in doing so, you really ought to go back and run a fact check on that or have an editor’s note in there saying that some of those things aren’t actually true,” he said. Journalists weighed in on the matter, too. “USA Today not only published a White House press release disguised as an ‘op-ed by Donald Trump,’ it is using its Twitter account to blast out the article’s lies to 3.6 million followers,” tweeted Daniel Dale, Washington correspondent for The Toronto Star.

As a general rule, journalists point out and correct inaccuracies that are stated by others in their reporting, particularly if what is said is known by journalists to be inaccurate. Doing so is simply a matter of accuracy, transparency and best practice. After all, journalists are to report the truth as they know it. But this isn’t an ordinary news story. It’s an op-ed. And in op-eds, writers ordinarily express their opinions which may or may not be proven true or false. However, this is an op-ed penned by the president of the United States, which as NBC News points out “comes as Trump has ramped up his efforts to campaign on the behalf of Republicans in the 2018 midterm elections, appearing at rallies and ratcheting up rhetoric directed at Democrats.” As a result, it’s easy to see how some view Trump’s op-ed as “a White House press release.”

Should USA Today have published Trump’s op-ed? Should they have published it alongside additional material explaining some of the alleged inaccuracies? Or, to use a popular phrase, is it simply that “all is fair in love and war” and op-eds?

Sources: Daniel Dale, Dan Gillmor, Glenn Kessler, NBC News, USA Today

SHOULD JOURNALISTS REPORT “LOOTERS?”

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In the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey’s devastation of Houston, ABC News chief national correspondent Tom Llamas suffered massive backlash after notifying police of “looting” taking place. On Twitter, Llamas tweeted “We informed police of the looting and Coast Guard is flying overhead. Multiple officers now on the scene.”

Llamas had reportedly already been in contact with police and mentioned that he saw people with faces covered going into a nearby supermarket. The backlash on Twitter was swift. One user said “What did you imagine the hungry people were taking from the grocery store? Big-screen TVs?” Another said “Your NYC reporter whose family is safe thought cops should protect property instead of rescuing human beings.”

When covering a news event, what are a reporter’s obligations? Should he or she simply stick to reporting? Or do they have some obligation to report what they believe may be a crime taking place? Of course, as Brian Flood pointed out on The Wrap, there may be “a difference between ‘looting’ and grabbing food and supplies to survive a devastating emergency.” What do you think?

Sources: The Wrap via Yahoo.com