One of these days, a bold newspaper may run a banner headline that says:
TRUMP TO TRUTH: DROP DEAD
It would delight or enrage readers, depending on political perspective, and set off endless rounds of debate in the media business about the propriety of publishing such a thunderbolt.
Old-timers in the news business, especially copy editors, would appreciate the adaptation of a famous 1975 New York Daily News headline to our current contentious political atmosphere. When President Gerald Ford refused to bail out New York City, which was on the verge of bankruptcy, the tabloid Daily News screamed:
FORD TO CITY: DROP DEAD
Although the headline was not literally accurate – Ford didn’t say “drop dead” — it captured the essence of the Republican president’s conservative aversion to the city’s liberal spending ways. It also clearly conveyed to city leaders they would have to dig their way out of their mess, which they did. The headline stoked an emotional outcry and may have cost Ford the presidency in 1976.
As a longtime copy editor who wrote thousands of headlines, I appreciate how those five words cut through traditional journalistic caution. It smacked readers in the face with the harsh facts of life. To my mind, it spoke the truth.
Today, the nation’s newspapers and media outlets are wallowing in a paralysis of analysis as the president of the United States repeatedly makes baseless claims, repeats allegations proven to be false, denies photographic evidence and dismisses scientific findings.
Is it accurate and fair in some instances to call President Trump a “liar,” meaning that he makes a false statement with the intent to deceive? How can journalists know that? Aren’t they getting into editorializing and undermining their credibility?
On the other hand, if the president of the United States does intend to deceive the American people – which can raise frightening implications – newspapers and media outlets are derelict in their responsibility to inform the American people if they hide the truth in euphemisms.
Personally, I would prefer that journalists not get hamstrung by excessive intellectual debate. Some things are hard to define but clearly apparent. As Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart said in 1964 about hard-core pornography: “I know it when I see it.”
Life is a good teacher. I feel I am awash in a sea of lies.