Trump throws gasoline on a smoldering media fire

Donald Trump, never one to pass up a chance to start a new fight, has picked one with The Wall Street Journal over an alleged misquote in a story the paper ran last week.

The story was based on an interview with Trump over a wide range of topics, among them North Korea. According to The Journal, Trump said, “I probably have a good relationship with Kim Jong Un. I have relationships with people. I think you people are surprised.”

The White House said the quote was wrong–that Trump said “I’d” instead of “I”–and asked for a correction. The Journal rejected the request, stating that, “We have reviewed the audio from our interview with President Trump, as well as the transcript provided by an external service, and we stand by what we reported.”

The Journal also released its recording of the quote and it’s clear that Trump said “I” even if he meant “I’d.” But Trump wouldn’t let it die; he tweeted twice that the story was phony, writing, “They just wanted a story. FAKE NEWS.”

The Journal is one of the few papers that supports Trump on its editorial pages and took a lot of flak from other media when the editor announced the paper wouldn’t call Trump a “liar” in its news columns, even when he does.

The Journal is very careful in its reporting and is quick to acknowledge any mistakes it makes, but you can bet the paper won’t back down from the position it has taken on this story.

As for Trump, he could be man enough to concede that his wording could lead to confusion and let it go. But then he’d have to admit that he’s not perfect, and he would never do that.

COARSENING DISCOURSE: Public discourse in this country was sliding downhill long before Donald Trump became president, but he has helped speed–up the slide in the year he’s been in office.

This creates a dilemma for the news media. What the president says is important, and the media wants to report his statements accurately. This resolve can be put to the test when the president is quoting uttering phrases like “sh*thole countries.”

The major newspapers I surveyed–admittedly, it was not a scientific survey–kept the word out of the headline (although The New York Times did sneak it into a smaller headline known as a deck) but used it in the text of the articles they wrote.

Even The Sacramento Bee, which is usually circumspect when it comes to using scatology, printed the word in its news column. The Union, which has printed four-letter slang words in the past that describe excrement and sexual intercourse, didn’t use the word in its headline or story.

(Interestingly, The Journal used the word in its news stories but not in an editorial on the subject. Perhaps the people in The Journal’s ivory tower refused to lower themselves to the gutter, or maybe they thought the readers of the editorial page would be offended.)

The three major broadcast networks–ABC, CBS and NBC–didn’t use the word, but no such restraint was felt by their cable brethren. (The cable boys don’t have the same FCC restrictions on content the network have to live with.)

This probably won’t be the last time media outlets have to decide how detailed they want to be in reporting what the president says. They just might reach the point where they say to hell with it and drop all remaining constraints.

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