Why Aren’t More Newspapers Calling on Trump to Resign?

The strange political silence of editorial boards across the country.

Much of the country seems to have grown complacent about the massive failures, criminal violations, and ubiquitous lies coming from Donald Trump. It would be an overwhelming task to chronicle all of them, but Joe Lockhart made an attempt to highlight the most egregious.

After three years of political and actual carnage under Trump, including Robert Mueller’s description of acts that amounted to, he told Congress, obstruction of justice; Trump’s “fine people on both sides” reaction to a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville where a counter-protester was killed; his rampant conflicts of interest and credible accusations of his violations of the emoluments clause of the Constitution; his close to 17,000 false statements; a travel ban that primarily targets mostly Muslim-majority countries;impeachment for alleged extortion of a foreign government (he was acquitted in the Republican Senate), and the gross mishandling of a deadly pandemic, you’d think somebody on an editorial board might say it’s time for the President to leave.

That was part of a column by Lockhart in which he attempted to answer the question of why more newspaper editorial boards haven’t called for Trump’s resignation. For some historical precedent, he notes the following.

By the height of the Watergate scandal in 1974, virtually every major newspaper in America had called for President Richard Nixon’s resignation. During the investigation and impeachment of Bill Clinton in 1998, more than 100 newspapers called for him to resign.

Given that both Woodward and Bernstein have said that Trump’s Ukraine scandal alone was worse than Watergate, it is an important question to ask. When it comes to this president, only a handful of editorial boards called for his impeachment, while the L.A. Times stood out as the one publication that called for his removal from office. The number calling for his resignation still stands at zero.

Lockhart talked to a lot of media analysts who articulated a number of factors that have come into play. One important response came from Jonathan Karl of ABC News, who said, “perhaps it’s the fact that there is zero percent [chance] he (Trump) would do it [resign] or that any in his party would ask him to do it.” The latter became clear when every Republican Senator except Mitt Romney voted against removing Trump from office for his attempt to extort Ukraine.

But most of the responses to Lockhart’s question were similar to what he heard from Margaret Sullivan.

When I asked my question of Margaret Sullivan, the media columnist for the Washington Post and former public editor of the New York Times, she responded by speculating, or spit-balling, as she called it: “It may have something to do with the knowledge that such a call would not be effective but would also deepen the rampant polarizations among citizens. And for some, it would exacerbate the resentment of the traditional press, if that’s even possible at this point.”

Some respondents put it more bluntly.

Kurt Bardella, a former Republican who served as the spokesman for the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, put it this way: “Donald Trump and his right wing allies have invested so much time in creating the false narrative that the mainstream media is fake and the enemy of the people. I think the media falls into their trap of not wanting to go down a certain path because they’re worried about being labeled biased or partisan.”

Jay Rosen has a similar take, saying the right wing’s “working the refs” strategy works. But he goes further: “You cannot overlook the level of flak, push-back and general hatred that newspaper editors get from Trump supporters for anything like this… editors defy these attacks every day, but it can make you think twice.”

When Bardella says that the media is “worried about being labeled biased or partisan,” that begins to mirror their obsession with “both sides do it.” While we’ve seen less of that in the last couple of years, the fear of taking a moral position on the need for Trump to resign, as they’ve done in the past, is rooted in a concern about charges of bias from the president and his enablers.

Conservative talk radio and Fox News initially made a name for themselves by casting the entire mainstream media as consumed with a “liberal bias.” As a result, every issue was turned into a partisan battle, with truth being the ultimate victim. That framework spawned shows on cable news like Crossfire. Just as Stephen Colbert went to the White House Correspondents dinner and used humor to shame President Bush and the press, Jon Stewart went on Crossfire back in 2006 in an attempt to call out the problem. The show was eventually cancelled, but the format remained: employ partisan commentators from both sides to fight it out in the studio and end the segment by pointing out that people simply disagree.

Donald Trump and the entire Republican Party now use that framework as a way to cower the media into compliance. To the extent that media organizations have failed to take a moral stand on Trump’s presidency for fear of being labelled partisan, they have abandoned their role as the guardians of truth.

So regardless of what the president or congressional Republicans will do in response, let me be very clear: Donald Trump should resign from office.

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Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly. Follow her on Twitter @Smartypants60.