To Report or Resist? A Journalist’s Struggles in the Age of Trump

There comes a time when you wonder if staying on the sidelines is the responsible thing to do

Last Updated: June 30, 2018 @ 11:33 AM

It has been a week of blows.

As a journalist, I’ve always resisted activism. That doesn’t mean I don’t have opinions, but I try hard not to use my platform to tell people what to think. Better to lay out the issues, to offer information and insight and to trust readers to make up their own minds.

But there comes a time, in a time of peril, when silence or neutrality may have momentous consequences, when you wonder if staying on the sidelines is the responsible place to be. As journalists, we are also citizens — parents, children, descendants of immigrants, students of history. We wonder what is happening to our country as we chronicle the day-by-day events, often in dismay.

Many journalists, in the era of Trump, have felt compelled to become activists. To many, the fate of the republic is on the line. In the past, some journalists believe we have failed the public by trying too hard to be even-handed — on the one hand, Trump and all we know about the man. On the other hand, Hillary’s emails, or Benghazi, or whatever.

It’s a struggle, I confess.  This week has been, for me, an exhausting litany of daily aggressions under the reign of Trump:

• Despite the repeal of the policy to separate families arriving at the Southern U.S. border, there’s been no apparent progress to reunite the 2,000-plus immigrant children detained by the federal government.

• There’s been no reliable information about where those 2,000-plus children are, and no clarity on whether there is a plan to reunite them with their parents.

• Justice Anthony Kennedy announced his plan to retire from Supreme Court, and Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell has amnesia about his previous position opposing replacing a Supreme Court spot during an election year.

• A woman’s right to an abortion, long established law of the land, suddenly became a matter of debate.

• Our president continued to insult and offend as a daily matter — including taking the time to smear a restaurant that declined to serve a member of his administration. Extra dollop of insult: Members of his party bemoaned the loss of “civility” in our society.

• A gunman shot dead five journalists in their Maryland newsroom. One of them was a reporter who covered the Pulse massacre in Florida, and saw the horror of mass killing reproduced in her place of work. No journalist can forget that we are, according to the president, “the enemy of the people.”

Many journalists are teetering on the edge. A Reuters editor had to apologize for blaming Trump for the shooting deaths in Annapolis, Md., but who could really blame him? The general tendency right now is toward madness. So many of us have to battle the urge to blurt out things we’ll regret (Sean Hannity has no such filter, blaming Rep. Maxine Waters for the Annapolis shootings.)

So it’s a moment when all journalists need to think hard about our credo of informing rather than advocating. As a profession we are constantly targeted by the president, while the Capital Gazette journalists were apparently targeted by a grudge-holder who felt emboldened at this juncture in history. Never in my lifetime have I seen the like.

Those of us who became journalists in order to tell the stories of our society, to play a role in our community, have been sorely tested. We will continue to be.