It should surprise no one that press conferences with President Donald Trump are a little like the Maury Povich show. It’s only a matter of time before someone is throwing chairs and body-slamming reporters. So it was no big surprise to me to learn that CNN’s Jim Acosta had press credentials taken away.
One of the basic rules of journalism is that a reporter stays out of the news. Some reporters test the limits of that rule and Acosta has a reputation for baiting the Trumpster. It’s just too easy.
Someone asked me what I thought of the reporter’s behavior. Wasn’t he wrong to be so rude to the President of the United States? Out of line?
Well, yes, and yes. But it’s one thing to show respect for the Office of President and another thing altogether to expect the Washington media to respect Donald Trump.
One of the reasons we’re seeing so much press pushback against the Trump administration is that reporters live every day with proof that just about everyone in the room has more respect for the Office of President than the individual currently holding title to it.
I know the argument that we should show respect for leadership, but Americans do nothing better than question authority. It’s who we are and what we do. Phonies are eventually called out. Remember the childhood story, The Emperor Has No Clothes?
Abraham Lincoln knew you could fool some of the people some of the time, and even all of the people some of the time, but no one can fool all of the people all of the time.
The need to show deference to political power runs against American DNA. We take the Constitution’s essence to heart — when it relates to our own individual perspectives.
Anyone who has ever served in the military learns that boot camp exists to knock all that individuality out of you and make you conform to the needs of the unit to which your mind and body has been consigned. Those of us who survive military service and return to civilian life soon revert to the irreverent, anti-authority, self-reliant and somewhat self-serving free-thinkers that populate our literature and romantic fantasies.
No one is more suited to that than the type of person who chooses to be a journalist. I know that journalism is the only job that someone like me could hold without feeling like a failure if you get fired for doing your job.
More than anyone else, especially politicians and sales people, journalists can tell the truth every day. To or about anyone.
The accusation that they stir up controversy is a compliment. The allegation that they are often impolite and overly blunt is high praise. The fact that they create trouble should be applauded. Nothing good happens without creating trouble for those who don’t want change.
A reporter who never creates inconvenience for both newsmakers and the people who read or watch the news is not really a reporter at all. They’re what working press call a flack — a public relations hack who spins half-truths and outright lies to sell something to a public that wants to hear it.
Nothing lights up a good reporter or a responsible news organization like seeing a bully take advantage of the public stage. The only weapon against a con job is exposure.
The best exposure shows the difference between a leader who takes a company or a nation to places that may be hard to achieve and to hold, and a follower who feeds a need for adulation by stoking fear, anger, mistrust, and the dark side of human nature.
A true leader knows that winning or losing is not about wealth or conquest of enemies and striking back. It’s about making allies of people with different ideas and friends helping friends to make the most of common goals.