Margaret Sullivan

This is the moment all of Trump’s anti-media rhetoric has been working toward

Don’t believe your eyes and ears. Believe only me. That has been President Trump’s message to the public for the past two years, pounded in without a break: The press is the enemy. The news is fake. President Donald Trump has done his best to prepare the ground for a moment like Aug 21. In a divided, disbelieving nation, will this really turn out to be the epic moment it looks like? Or will Trump’s intense, years-long campaign to undermine the media — and truth itself — pay off now, in the clutch? 

Google and Facebook sucked profits from newspapers. Publishers are finally resisting.

Legislation in the House and Senate would provide a temporary “safe harbor” — a four-year antitrust exemption for news publishers as they negotiate with Google and Facebook over how news content is used and how advertising dollars are distributed. While Google and Facebook gave media organizations new, and popular, ways to distribute their journalism, they also sucked up much of the advertising revenue. Meanwhile, the tech platforms benefited because they drew lucrative audiences for “content” — the journalism produced by local reporters who, as a rule, are hard-working and not well paid.

President Trump blasted reporting from Puerto Rico as ‘fake news.’ Heeding it might have saved lives.

[Commentary] When Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico last fall, President Donald Trump playfully lobbed rolls of paper towels to those taking shelter. What if the reporting on the ground had been taken seriously — as something to be heeded, and reacted to, instead of summarily dismissed? What if the president had pushed for help from wherever it could be found, including from outside the overstressed federal agency? 

The North Korea summit was a triumph of Trumpian stagecraft, and the media fell for it

[Commentary] Although every legitimate news organization made efforts, some better than others, to bring context and even a measure of skepticism into their mix of stories [on the Singapore summit], the event overall was a triumph of Trumpian stagecraft. And the media played its accustomed role.  Because of wall-to-wall media coverage, carefully choreographed visuals and the usual Trumpian bluster, the Singapore summit largely came across as a triumph of personal diplomacy by the president.

Sinclair’s TV deal would be good for Trump. And his new FCC is clearing the way.

Sinclair Broadcast Group has struck a deal with Tribune Media to buy dozens of local TV stations. And what Fox News is for cable, Sinclair could become for broadcast: programming with a soupcon — or more — of conservative spin.

Already, Sinclair is the largest owner of local TV stations in the nation. If the $3.9 billion deal gets regulatory approval, Sinclair would have 7 of every 10 Americans in its potential audience. “That’s too much power to repose in one entity,” Michael Copps, who served on the FCC from 2001 to 2012, told me. Sinclair would have 215 stations, including ones in big markets such as Los Angeles, New York City and Chicago, instead of the 173 it has now. There’s no reason to think that the FCC’s new chairman, Ajit Pai, will stand in the way. Already, his commission has reinstated a regulatory loophole — closed under his predecessor, Tom Wheeler — that allows a single corporation to own more stations than the current 39 percent nationwide cap. And Pai has made no secret of his deregulatory fervor. The former Verizon lawyer, an FCC commissioner for five years, is moving quickly. The stakes are high — and not just for Sinclair’s business interests. There’s evidence that when Sinclair takes over, conservative content gets a powerful platform.

Trump’s wish to jail reporters is more than possible. Ask his international friends.

President Donald Trump warmly welcomed Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to the White House. Just hours later, we found out that President Trump would like to put reporters in jail. There’s a connection here. And it’s not good news for America’s journalists or the citizens who depend on them to hold their government accountable. Both as a candidate and as president, President Trump has shown no regard for the role of a free press in a democracy. New York Times Executive Editor Dean Baquet told me he found appalling Trump’s suggestion, but not entirely surprising. “He doesn’t understand our role. He wants ‘Fox & Friends’ coverage instead,” Baquet said. So Trump’s embrace of Erdogan — who may be the leading jailer of journalists in the world — should come as no surprise. The same goes for his regard for the leadership of Russian President Vladi­mir Putin or Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sissi, clear enemies of a free press in their countries.

Great local reporting stands between you and wrongdoing. And it needs saving.

[Commentary] In only 15 years, American newspaper companies slashed their workforces by more than half — from 412,000 employees in 2001 to 174,000 in 2015. But that troubling trend wasn’t on the minds of journalists at the Charleston Gazette-Mail last year as they dug deep into the prescription-drug epidemic that was inflicting mortal wounds on their community. No, what motivated them was the West Virginia paper’s unofficial motto: “Sustained outrage.” That phrase, coined by former publisher Ned Chilton, “means a lot to people here,” executive editor Robert Byers told me last week, shortly after the 37,000-circulation paper won the Pulitzer Prize for investigative reporting. The family-owned paper (Chilton’s daughter is the publisher now) has a newsroom staff of about 50. “Sustained outrage” is vitally important. So is keeping it alive.

Ebay Founder Pierre Omidyar network gives $100 million to boost journalism and fight hate speech

The philanthropy established by eBay founder Pierre Omidyar will contribute $100 million to support investigative journalism, fight misinformation and counteract hate speech around the world. One of the first contributions, $4.5 million, will go to the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ), the Washington-based group behind 2016’s Panama Papers investigation, which revealed offshore businesses and shell corporations, some of which were used for purposes such as tax evasion. Other early recipients will include the Anti-Defamation League, the Washington organization devoted to fighting anti-Semitism worldwide. ADL will use the Omidyar money to build “a state-of-the-art command center” in Silicon Valley to combat the growing threat posed by hate online. Another will be the Latin American Alliance for Civic Technology, which promotes civic engagement and government accountability in Latin America. It will receive $2.9 million from the network. The newly announced funding is intended to address “a worrying resurgence of authoritarian politics that is undermining progress toward a more open and inclusive society,” said Omidyar Network managing partner Matt Bannick. The network is also concerned about the declining trust in democratic institutions around the world, including the news media, he said. “Increasingly, facts are being devalued, misinformation spread, accountability ignored and channels that give citizens a voice withdrawn,” he said. “These trends cannot become the norm.”

Pro-Trump media sets the agenda with lies. Here’s how traditional media can take it back.

[Commentary] You can’t fight propaganda with standard journalism. Watchdogging the fake-news machinery and fact-checking relentlessly is part of the prescription. So too is being more transparent about how we gather and verify the news; covering what’s important (not “barking at every car”); and using clearer labels to distinguish news from opinion. News organizations have to acknowledge their own biases internally, and constantly report against them.

Putin destroyed Russia’s independent press. Trump seems to want the same.

[Commentary] While no one is predicting car bombings or poisonings of American journalists, it’s not much of a stretch to see similarities between President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin’s attitude. Both leaders want a compliant press and are willing to take action toward getting it — some, of course, more extreme than others.

Russians, overwhelmingly, get their news from TV. “Imagine you have two dozen TV channels and it is all Fox News,” said former deputy energy minister Vladi­mir Milov, now a Putin critic. The tight control is effective: Putin has approval ratings of over 80 percent — ratings that Trump would, metaphorically speaking, kill for. Russia may not be the worst place in the world for journalists, but it is very bad nonetheless. Trump’s admiration for Putin becomes even more troubling when paired with his own moves to stamp out independent journalism through disparagement, denial of access, favoritism and blacklisting. “For Putin, there has been no greater obsession in controlling the culture than in controlling the media,” said Joel Simon, author and executive director of the Committee to Protect Journalists. For America under Trump, that’s a cautionary tale.