David Zurawik

Zurawik: Some good news in press pushing back against Trump lies, propaganda this week

White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders speaks during a news briefing at the James Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House Tuesday. MSNBC and CNN used different strategies to push back against White House disinformation and lies.

I can’t let the week end without noting some good news for once in the White House war on the press.

In Sunday’s print column, I wrote about the need for cable channels to seriously rethink how they covered press sessions at the White House.


What are we and the American people getting out of them if they are filled with lies, “alternative facts,” disinformation and propaganda? Aren’t we part of the problem by cablecasting the sessions live and multiplying the audience exponentially for the White House lies?

With Trump using the sessions as a stage on which he can exploit members of the White House press corps as supporting players in his reality-TV presidency, let’s think about not airing them live, I suggested.


Tuesday, the White House held a session with Sarah Huckabee Sanders and administration officials, and to its credit, MSNBC aired none of it live.

I was happy to see that Erik Wemple jumped on it in the Washington Post with a column headlined: “MSNBC declines to allow Sarah Sanders to dictate its programming.”

Wemple nailed the issue by doing a straightforward content analysis of what evasions and misinformation viewers watching the press session got from White House officials versus the stories viewers of MSNBC saw covered and discussed instead. The facts made the case.

“Look what you can accomplish when you decline to hand over your airwaves to unreliable narrators,” Wemple wrote.

CNN did carry the press session live, but it split the screen. One one side, press secretary Sarah Sanders talking, on the other a fact check box of what she was saying.

I applaud CNN’s approach as well, though it is hard to fact check someone who lies as often as Sanders in real time. But it shows two channels making a genuine effort to not let the White House use them. Fox carried the session live.

Daniel Dale, fact checker for the Toronoto Star, saw promise in the CNN strategy.

On the theme of pushing back against Trump’s White House, I also want to note how inspirational I found Marvin Kalb’s book from Brookings Institution Press, “Enemy of the People: Trump’s War on the Press, the New McCarthyism, and The Threat to American Democracy.”


Beyond Kalb’s deeply informed analysis of how dangerous Trump is to democracy, the veteran newsman’s chronicle of how powerfully legacy journalism has served democracy was a tonic for me at a time when I was starting to feel as if Trump, in his willingness to transgress boundaries of decency, might prevail in his battle with the press.

Kalb is especially sharp in his analysis of Sen. Joe McCarthy in the 1950s, another demagogue who specialized in transgressing boundaries of truth and decency.

This is the work of a true believer in journalism and democracy. We need more keepers of that deeper faith in what we do, even as we rethink the strategies of how we do it.