Why Journalists Should Be Concerned About the Trump/Pence Ticket

David Mindich is seeing a “Murrow moment” for journalists with the Trump candidacy.

As Edward R. Murrow wrapped up his now-famous special report condemning Joseph McCarthy in 1954, he looked into the camera and said words that could apply today. “He didn’t create this situation of fear—he merely exploited it, and rather successfully,” Murrow said of McCarthy. Most of Murrow’s argument relied on McCarthy’s own words, but in the end Murrow shed his journalistic detachment to offer a prescription: “This is no time for men who oppose Senator McCarthy’s methods to keep silent—or for those who approve,” he said. “We cannot defend freedom abroad by deserting it at home.”

After months of holding back, modern-day journalists are acting a lot like Murrow, pushing explicitly against Donald Trump, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee.

To the extent that Mindich is right, we know that the threat Donald Trump poses is (as he would say) “yuuuge” if it has knocked journalists off their attachment to a “both sides do it” perspective. But I wonder if many of them have spent time thinking about the particular threat a Trump/Pence ticket poses to their own profession. Let’s review the record.

Trump began his attempts to silence the media by throwing Jorge Ramos out of a news conference for asking a question he didn’t like. That eventually turned into a blacklist of media outlets that were banned from his events. The list eventually grew to include Univision, Buzzfeed, Politico, The Daily Beast, Huffington Post, The Des Moines Register and the Washington Post.

Perhaps even more disturbing is Trump’s proposal to loosen libel laws in order to make it easier for him to sue media outlets for reporting he doesn’t like. Callum Borchers explains how that could happen.

Through judicial appointments, Trump could theoretically reverse decades of legal precedent that requires a public figure like him to prove “actual malice” in a libel case…

The key here is that the “actual malice” standard for public figures is not codified in federal law; it is merely a longstanding legal precedent.

Precedents can change in the hands of the right (or wrong, depending on your perspective) judges.

Finally, we add Mike Pence to the equation. As Governor of Indiana, he set up his own state-run news outlet to compete with the media.

Gov. Mike Pence is starting a state-run taxpayer-funded news outlet that will make pre-written news stories available to Indiana media, as well as sometimes break news about his administration, according to documents obtained by The Indianapolis Star

One target audience for the governor’s stories would be smaller newspapers that have only a few staffers. But not everyone thinks the approach best serves the public interest.

“I think it’s a ludicrous idea,” said Jack Ronald, publisher of one such newspaper, the Portland Commercial Review. “I have no problem with public information services…But the notion of elected officials presenting material that will inevitably have a pro-administration point of view is antithetical to the idea of an independent press.”

This is a ramping up of what we saw from the last Republican administration – which brought us everything from Jeff Gannon as part of the White House Press Corp (how the hell did that happen?) to the “payola scandal” of taxpayer-funded commentators like Armstrong Williams, Maggie Gallagher and Michael McManus.

If all of this leads to a “Murrow Moment” for the press about what a Trump/Pence administration would mean…so be it.

Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly.