The Washington Post is a big deal of a newspaper in my life. It’s the one I used to work for. I had the great fortune to be there in the glory days after Watergate and “All the President’s Men.” A hard-hitting investigative reporter I was not: profiles, feature stories and reviews were more my métier. But even so, my heart skipped a beat when I entered that newsroom. A lot of good energy. A lot of fine people.
Last week I paid a visit to the Library of Congress to check out a gallery semi-permanently dedicated to one of the finest of Washington Post people, Herbert L. Block. The cartoons of Herblock (as he signed them) reminded me of his genial presence and era-straddling genius, and of the Post’s brave stands against McCarthy and Nixon and its forthright defense of civil liberties, racial justice and the rule of law.
That exhibit also stirred a longing for more Herblockian courage and breadth of vision in America’s current hour of trial.
The news media has been tough on Donald Trump personally. Looking back at the past week’s worth of Washington Posts, for example, I see accounts of Trump’s failed effort to have the former White House counsel clear him of obstruction of justice; of the President’s latest acts of cosying-up to Vladimir Putin; and of his newly revealed tax data and how it squares with his claims of business genius.
That coverage coexists, however, with a great deal of clickbait (about the Royal baby, the New Jersey “bear brawl,” and Alyssa Milano’s campaign for a “sex strike” etc. etc.), far too many stories that treat Trump and his henchpeople with normalizing respect, and heaps of punditry. Will Candidate So-and-so be able to raise enough money to be conmpetitive? Can the Bernie Sanders campaign survive Joe Biden’s entry into the race? Will the “booming” economy sweep Trump to reelection? Every story aims to predict the future. Every reporter wants to be a handiapper.
We have a hate-mongering lunatic as President. He has deputized a gang of kleptocrats and corporate stooges to run key agencies of the United States government, undermining their already suspect ability to act in the public interest. He makes no secret of his desire to expand the powers of his office toward autocracy, and has taken dangerous steps in that direction. He has bent an entire political party to his will. Trump & Co. are engaged in a daily assault on democracy, social and economic justice, and freedom of the press.
That is the huge story of our time, but you wouldn’t always know it from the newspapers. Herblock would be disappointed in us.