• 55°

Cokie and Steven Roberts: Tribes, teams and journalists

By Cokie Roberts and Steven V. Roberts

Political tribalism keeps getting worse. The demand for unthinking and uncompromising loyalty keeps getting louder. Individuals or institutions that try to maintain a sense of fairness and balance, that don’t want to choose sides in our Uncivil War, are branded as weak-kneed, faint-hearted heretics.

Two recent events highlight this dangerous development. First, Fox News was excoriated by President Donald Trump for daring to interview a Democratic Party official. And second, The New York Times was lambasted by liberal critics for a headline that was not, in their view, sufficiently critical of the president’s racist rants.

The parallels, of course, are imprecise. Trump has been eviscerating the press as a campaign strategy for years. But the similarities are still striking.

The president and his leftist critics share an instinct for intolerance: a deep disdain for anyone who strays from the party line, a demand for purity combined with a towering self-righteousness. You have to be on the Red Team or the Blue Team, a Loyalist or a Resister.

Both sides fundamentally misunderstand the role of impartial and independent journalists. We belong to no tribe, root for no team. And if that sounds musty and old-fashioned, well, so does the Constitution, which not only protects a free press but defines it as essential to a healthy democracy.

Trump was so outraged by Fox reporters, pollsters and anchors who dared to question the Lord of the Lies (as opposed to the bootlicking sycophants who inhabit the network’s prime-time schedule) that he tweeted: “The New @FoxNews is letting millions of GREAT people down! We have to start looking for a new News Outlet. Fox isn’t working for us anymore!”

Fox anchor Neil Cavuto spoke for many of his colleagues when he replied on the air, “Mr. President, we don’t work for you.” But Trump doesn’t want to hear that. If you dare to contradict or fact-check the president, you are “all but dead to him,” Cavuto added, and the president’s core supporters share his expectation of complete fealty. They’ve told the anchor, he said, that “I am either with him totally, or I am a never Trumper fully.”

But Cavuto firmly rejects that choice, saying, “You’re entitled to your point of view, Mr. President, but you’re not entitled to your own set of facts.”

Over on the left, the latest brouhaha was trigged by a Times headline over a story about a Trump speech that read, “Trump Urges Unity vs. Racism.” The words were technically accurate but not nuanced or skeptical enough, and Times editors acknowledged the problem and changed it after the first edition. But that was not nearly enough to quell the bombastic blowback.

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez tweeted that the headline served as “a reminder of how white supremacy is aided by — and often relies upon — the cowardice of mainstream institutions.”

Sen. Cory Booker upped her on the outrage meter, tweeting, “Lives literally depend on you doing better.”

Dan Pfeiffer, a senior adviser to President Obama, told Politico: “A vast swath of Democratic voters are pretty angry at the media. They see a racist liar in the White House and a media too afraid to call him a racist or a liar.”

At a meeting of New York Times staffers, one told editor Dean Baquet that the paper was “actively misleading” readers by being too soft on Trump.

But Baquet, like Cavuto, hit back. “Our readers and some of our staff cheer us when we take on Donald Trump, but they jeer at us when we take on Joe Biden,” he told the staff meeting. “They sometimes want us to pretend that he was not elected president, but he was elected president. And our job is to figure out why, and how, and to hold the administration to account. If you’re independent, that’s what you do.”

Baquet told CNN that there is a “generational divide” in the newsroom, and the meeting made clear there’s a racial one as well, with reporters of color among the loudest critics of their own bosses. But Baquet — the first African-American editor of the Times — is determined the resist their pressure. “Our role is not to be the leader of the resistance,” he insists.

We believe deeply in the traditions that Cavuto and Baquet are defending. No news organization is perfect, but at their best, they don’t work for the right or the left — for Trump or his rivals, for the Reds or the Blues. They are not Loyalists or Resisters.

They are simply journalists — fact-finders, truth-tellers — and more valuable than ever.

Steve and Cokie Roberts can be contacted at stevecokie@gmail.com.

Comments

Education

‘Better chance of succeeding’: Moody, colleagues reflect on tenure, retirement

News

Collecting garbage: Locals work to beautify High Rock Lake during Clean Sweep

Coronavirus

Salisbury man grateful parents’ story has impacted many

News

Celtics take big lead and hold on to top Heat 117-106

Business

Downtown Salisbury ‘moving swiftly’ with developers interested in Empire Hotel

Business

From fantasy to fact, Cherry builds a Hobbit House at his Treesort

Business

Biz Roundup: CSP seeking to hire 100 new employees for plant expansion

Coronavirus

Police, sheriff focus on education in addressing mask-wearing complaints

Education

Candidates for East Area school board seat have widely different views on renewal

Kannapolis

Cannon Mills’ whistle sounds again, brings nostalgia with it

Coronavirus

UPDATED: Outbreak at jail annex over; new cases emerge at Kannapolis facility

Elections

In Senate race, Tillis calibrates ties to Trump

News

5 Charlotte officers recommended for dismissal after death in custody

Elections

Trump, Biden hit unlikely battleground state of Minnesota

College

Maui Invitational moving to Asheville during pandemic

News

Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg dies at 87

Crime

Blotter: Sept. 19

Coronavirus

Kannapolis brewery linked to eight COVID-19 positives

Elections

Local Democrats call to ‘turn the state blue’ during virtual office reopening

Education

Funding flat, enrollment down slightly for Rowan-Salisbury Schools

Education

Catawba gets high marks in U.S. News and World rankings for fifth year

Business

China Grove soap store sets sights on expansion into Kannapolis

News

Charlotte, UNC game canceled after 49ers place players in quarantine

Crime

Blotter: Sept. 18