Washington Post editor finally admits Trump should've been called a "liar"

Defining press failure

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Better late than never? At this point it's hard to tell.

For four years news outlets helped normalize Trump's mendacious behavior by refusing to hold the commander-in-chief accountable with clear language that called his lies for what they were. Afraid that calling Trump a "liar" in straight news coverage would anger him and spark cries of "liberal media bias," the press capitulated. In the process, they helped turn lying into an unequivocal hallmark of the Republican Party — as witnessed during the recent impeachment trial, where Trump's lawyers lied repeatedly and without concern to Senate jurors.  

Now that Trump is out of office, some news executives are having second thoughts.

From a lengthy interview retiring Washington Post editor Marty Baron recently gave to the Germany's Der Spiegel:

We had to be much more forthright about Trump’s mendacity, his lies over the course of the administration. We needed to call them that from the very beginning. We were very much operating on good principle; and let’s be fair, he was president, he was duly elected. But he was exploiting that. He was exploiting our principles. That said, I don’t think it would have made any great difference.

There's a lot there, and unfortunately much of it cannot be defended. What's most exasperating is that Baron, who's one of the best in the business, waits until Trump is out of office to make this sweeping concession about the central error that the media made covering the congenital liar. "We had to be much more forthright about Trump's mendacity, his lies," stressed Baron, which raises the obvious question: What was stopping him and the Post from doing that?

Baron has been executive editor for one of the most influential news outlets in America, so why did the paper fail to be "more forthright" about Trump's lies? Why did the Post on the one hand employ an aggressive team of fact-checkers to document the thousands of Trump lies, but then refuse to call them "lies"? That's not journalism. It's some kind of weird hybrid where the Post and others created a safe place where they could claim they were holding Trump accountable without being honest and accurate in the process.

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What Baron is conceding is the Post knew it should've been calling Trump a liar instead of hiding behind a carousel of euphemisms — "falsehoods," "false claims," "inaccurate claims," "alternative facts," "alternative reality," "erroneous description." But the Post, like its competitors, did not want to fight that "liar" fight with Trump, the White House, the GOP, and Fox News. So the Post kept its head down and shelved the discussion until February 2021.

Asked earlier in the interview about general failures the press may have made in the Trump era, Baron suggested events moved so fast with the churning chaos at the White House that it was sometimes difficult to take stock. "We’re making decisions in real time, we’re moving quickly, we don’t have time to sit back and think about a lot of the implications of what we do. We should do more of that. But things move at a very fast pace," he said.

But again, the collective decision news outlets made to not call Trump a liar in headlines and in news coverage, despite the fact he is a pathological liar, and despite the fact that every reporter, editor, and producer working in the Beltway press knew that, was a decision the press made over a four-year period. It wasn't a one-time call made at midnight on a tight deadline.

Editors like Baron could have reassessed their misguided approach in 2018 or 2019 or 2020 and decided artificial newsroom barriers that had been constructed around "lies" weren't working. But Baron did not. It was only until the very end of Trump's presidency, and most often when he was literally trying to overturn an election, that some news outlets ventured out, on rare occasions, and called him a "liar."

But when Trump lied without pause during his presidential debates with Joe Biden last year? It was crickets. When Trump spent most of 2020 lying about every conceivable aspect of a raging public health crisis, I never saw a single "Trump Lies About Pandemic" news headline for a major news organization.

Another key point Baron made was that journalists had their hands tied because Trump was President of the United States and certain deference had to be paid. "We were very much operating on good principle; and let’s be fair, he was president, he was duly elected," said the editor. "But he was exploiting that. He was exploiting our principles."

Trump exploited the fact that the press in the past did not call the President of the United States a liar, simply because the U.S. had never before elected a pathological liar to be commander-in-chief. There’s no reason the press couldn't have realized years ago that Trump was exploiting that tradition and changed its coverage. At first, the thin excuse from editors for banning “liar” and “lies” was nobody knew if Trump was telling untruths intentionally. (Maybe he’s just misinformed!) But there are some lies Trump has told more than 150 times in public, which demolishes that weak newsroom defense.

Lastly, Baron, like so many others who have been pressed on the "lies" issue, ultimately insists that it wouldn't have mattered if the Post had called out Trump’s mendacity. The standard media defense goes like this: Labeling Trump a liar wouldn't have changed his behavior, so what's the big deal? i.e. This is all just an irrelevant semantics debate.

Let’s flip that weak defense around: If calling Trump a liar were not a big deal, than why didn't everybody do it? Answer: Because they were bullied and they invented new guidelines just for him, but they didn't want to admit that publicly.   

Today, as Trump hibernates in Florida, Baron at the Posts admits what was so obvious for so long — Trump should've been called a liar.

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(Photo Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

🇺🇸 GOOD STUFF:

The debate over playing the national anthem at sporting events was reignited last week when Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban announced his NBA team would not play the song before tip-off. The league quickly moved in and quashed that idea.

The Atlantic’s Jemele Hill’s offers up an insightful piece, "The Problem With Mandatory Patriotism in Sports”:

Amid the renewed attention to forms of racial injustice ingrained in American life, the NBA’s decision to strong-arm teams into playing the national anthem just doesn’t seem right. It will embolden people who insist upon an exclusive form of patriotism. In a direct response to the Mavericks, Texas Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick announced on Wednesday that he would fast-track the “Star Spangled Banner Protection Act,” which would require the national anthem to be played at all events that receive public funding.

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📻 FUN STUFF — BECAUSE WE ALL NEED A BREAK

Instead of sharing a new song, I wanted to share an amazing website/app I recently came across, which effortlessly and instantly allows you to listen to radio stations around the country and the world, just by spinning the globe with your fingertip and exploring what's out there.

Online, it can be found at Radio.garden and the Radio Garden app can be downloaded at the Apple store. So far, I've assembled a list of about 20 go-stations that I've bookmarked and sample throughout the week.

They include the island sounds of Koko FM, Hano, HI. Boss Country Radio out of Austin. Sweet classical music programming from WMPN Jackson, MI. Blues musings on KLZR in Westcliffe, CO. Feel-good oldies on WLHA Madison, WI. Everything jazz from WGBO in Newark. And London's UK 1940’s Radio Station, which is exactly what it sounds like. I've also stumbled across amazing pop offerings via Italy and Egypt.

Obviously, the possibilities are endless. Warning: Set aside plenty of time when exploring, the music rabbit hole potential is vast.