Trump and the ivory tower

Nearly two dozen of my former and current colleagues have endorsed a call to eliminate live coverage of President Trump because he “uses [it] as a platform for misinformation and disinformation about COVID-19, [and] they have become a serious public health hazard–a matter of life and death for viewers who cannot easily identify his falsehoods, lies, and exaggerations.”

The call continues: “We ask that no speech, rally, or press conference involving the president be covered live anymore. The risk of passing along bad information and harmful advice is too great. 

“News organizations need to attend carefully to what he says and only share information that they can independently verify. By asking themselves ‘is what he said something we should be amplifying?’ news organizations can offset the damage these briefings are producing.” 

The open letter, which was sent to a variety of news organizations, underlines how out of touch the ivory tower is. 

First, the letter assumes that people are so stupid they can’t possibly understand errors or sarcasm. 

That’s one of the reasons the media and their academic companions have become so distrusted. When Gallup measures the most respected professions, journalists rank near the bottom, way below auto mechanics, lawyers, policemen, and military officers. 

Second, I know two of the leading lights of the anti-Trump movement: Todd Gitlin of Columbia University and Jay Rosen of New York University.

Gitlin, who was called “Todd the God” at NYU when I taught there, is the former head of the Students for a Democratic Society and has been a political organizer much of his life. He opposed the Gulf War of 1991 and the Afghanistan and Iraq wars of the 2000s. He’s called for Harvard to divest from companies that develop fossil fuels or support Israel.

Rosen created a website called Press Think, which has become a darling of academics and press folks and has been a frequent critic of the Trump administration. One of his main collaborations is with billionaire Pierre Omidyar, one of the most significant contributors to the Democrat Party. 

My favorite memory of Rosen occurred one winter break when he opened his office window to hide the smell of his cigarette. He forgot to close the window, which led to the pipes freezing throughout the building and left a colossal repair bill for NYU. If the shoe of absent-minded professor fits, then Rosen definitely should wear it.  

Third, the list of signatories supposedly includes professors of communications, journalism, and media studies. But after a quick look through the online letter, I found partial names, health workers, and members of the public. So much for being an “exclusive” group of knowledgable educators.

I don’t think objectivity, fairness, and balance exist in the media anymore, but I think transparency should play a significant role in the press. 

That’s why I suggest that all of the signatories who teach journalism should make their anti-Trump sentiments publicly available to their students—as I have made my conservative views known. 

More important, I hope my former and current colleagues keep their politics out of the classroom—as I have done for more than two decades. 

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