WashPost’s Pulitzer Winner: ‘This Is a Time of Extraordinary Power for the Media’ in D.C.!

Speaking to a packed audience at Washington’s The Newseum, Washington Post reporter and new Pulitzer Prize winner David Fahrenthold proclaimed that the Trump era has yielded “a time of extraordinary power for the media in Washington and that — I mean that, power.”

Fahrenthold led up to this smug statement by attempting (and failing) to joke about The Washington Post motto “Democracy dies in darkness”:

First, I should say for those of you who have not been following. The Washington Post is a new pretty gothic motto: Democracy dies in darkness. So, in accordance with the new company policy, I have asked the Newseum staff to set the mood. We’ll will turn down the lights, turn on the fog machine and I brought a CD of haunted house sound effects. We’re just going to have two minutes of organ music and screams to get everybody ready. I guess that's not possible. Thank you. We will just imagine. 

With some laughter, Fahrenthold got serious as he touted the media’s “extraordinary power” that miraculously appeared starting on November 9. He fretted about Trump supporters who would be speaking later at the event, noting that they “have called us fake news or the enemy of the people.”

“We actually — the truth is we live in a time when the folks in power — the folks with power in Washington often lack the cohesion, the ability, the organization to shape the narrative about themselves. Usually, one of the dynamics we deal with in Washington is that a presidential administration sort of acting as a unit to shape the way the public sees them,” he added.

Translation? The media now has the power to destroy you if you stand in their way or don’t fit their narrative. With journalism largely on a hiatus the last four years, the profession has found new energy since their pals in the Democratic Party lost the chance to stay in the White House.

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Referring to those hurt and scared by the election, Fahrenthold explained:

So, the public, more than ever, depends on us on the news media to make sense of what's going on in Washington. We've seen times where the people who have power depend on a static sense of what just happened to them...What's our responsibility now as a news media at this moment of unaccustomed influence? Well, beyond the age-old requirement that we do right and we be fair and fast, I would say there's a quite enough to be more transparent than ever. We have all these people who normally tuned into Washington political coverage in the last month of the presidential election and then tuned out again. Those people are now engaged. They’re reading, they’re excited or they’re encouraged or they're terrified. 

He cited stories like the liberal judges ruling against Trump’s travel restrictions or the Russia investigation obsessions “used to be things that we covered for a Washington audience and some audience beyond now is his enormous national audience.”

Interestingly, Fahrenthold closed in part with some advice that he and his colleagues should take, which is they should be receptive to criticism. With all the journalists that block folks here at NewsBusters or dismiss us as fake news, they sure seem like they don’t do enough listening to positive and negative feedback.

“So in closing, for the news media our new power, should come with a profound sense of humility and an openness to criticism about what we ignore, what we don't think is worthy in the explanation. We have to become — as we’ve become more transparent, we have to listen to what comes back in from people who think we’re not doing it right or missing the story,” he concluded.

Prior to Fahrenthold, Newseum CEO Jeffrey Herbst opened the event by discussing the Newseum’s background and, yes, the boogeyman fear of Trump diminishing the role of the press. 

“We all know that there will inevitably be friction between an administration and journalists. However, perhaps at no point in living memory has there been more concern about freedom of the press in good part because of the real or perceived conflict between the Trump administration and the media,” Herbst fretted before citing a Pew Research Center poll on this matter.

Herbst emphasized that The Newseum is a “nonpartisan forum committed to fostering opinion and substantive discussion” before noting that “[w]e have gathered a diverse array of present and former administration officials and journalists to discuss how we got to this point and how, still early in the administration we might act to achieve our common goal of an informed citizenry that is the bedrock of our democracy.”

Nonpartisan? For Herbst to make this claim is laughable and false news (at worst, fake news). According to a search on Open Secrets, Herbst donated $500.00 to Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign in March 2015. 

What can I say? Facts are stubborn things.

Here’s the relevant portions of the transcript from The Newseum event on April 12:

The Newseum
Trump and the Press
April 12, 2017

NEWSEUM CEO JEFFREY HERBST: We all know that there will inevitably be friction between an administration and journalists. However, perhaps at no point in living memory has there been more concern about freedom of the press in good part because of the real or perceived conflict between the Trump administration and the media. A recent Pew Research Center poll found that 83 percent of Americans believe that current tensions have made the relationship between the administration and the news media unhealthy. And about three in four U.S. adult say that these tensions are getting in the way of access to important national political news and information. Staying true to our role as a nonpartisan forum committed to fostering opinion and substantive discussion, we are so pleased to present this set of conversations as we approach the 100 day mark of the Trump administration to explore these challenges, and maybe to even find some solution and common ground. We have gathered a diverse array of present and former administration officials and journalists to discuss how we got to this point and how, still early in the administration we might act to achieve our common goal of an informed citizenry that is the bedrock of our democracy. We will employ several different formats, including standalone talks and panels in order to investigate these complex issues. 

(....)


DAVID FAHRENTHOLD: First, I should say for those of you who have not been following. The Washington Post is a new pretty gothic motto: Democracy dies in darkness. So, in accordance with the new company policy, I have asked the Newseum staff to set the mood. We’ll will turn down the lights, turn on the fog machine and I brought a CD of haunted house sound effects. We’re just going to have two minutes of organ music and screams to get everybody ready. I guess that's not possible. Thank you. We will just imagine. I want to say this right at the beginning. This is a time of extraordinary power for the media in Washington and that — I mean that, power, although there are number of people, some of whom they come on the stage later today who have called us fake news or the enemy of the people. We actually — the truth is we live in a time when the folks in power — the folks with power in Washington often lack the cohesion, the ability, the organization to shape the narrative about themselves. Usually, one of the dynamics we deal with in Washington is that a presidential administration sort of acting as a unit to shape the way the public sees them. 

We don't have that now for better or for worse. So, the public, more than ever, depends on us on the news media to make sense of what's going on in Washington. We've seen times where the people who have power depend on a static sense of what just happened to them. Remember why did Mike Pence or how did Mike Pence, the Vice President, learn that the National Security Advisor, Mike Flynn, had misled him about his contacts with Russian ambassador? He read about in The Washington Post. How did House Republicans find out a couple of weeks ago that this health care bill, this ObamaCare bill they been talking about for months had been pulled without a vote? They read about it from The Washington Post and The New York Times who the President himself had called to spread the news, apparently trusting that Robert Costa, my colleague, and Maggie Haberman from The Times would get it right. 

(....)

FAHRENTHOLD: What's our responsibility now as a news media at this moment of unaccustomed influence? Well, beyond the age-old requirement that we do right and we be fair and fast, I would say there's a quite enough to be more transparent than ever. We have all these people who normally tuned into Washington political coverage in the last month of the presidential election and then tuned out again. Those people are now engaged. They’re reading, they’re excited or they’re encouraged or they're terrified. Whatever it is, they're reading the details of House Intelligence Committee meetings and Senate Intelligence investigations and appeals court decisions in Maryland and Hawaii. All of these things that used to be things that we covered for a Washington audience and some audience beyond now is his enormous national audience. So for those people coming to us for the first time or acting as a sustained audience for the first time, we must show them why we're better. We have to show them if they don't know it from our name, they don’t come to us and know from the name The Washington Post, we have to show it to them in our work.

(....)

FAHRENTHOLD: So in closing, for the news media our new power, should come with a profound sense of humility and an openness to criticism about what we ignore, what we don't think is worthy in the explanation. We have to become — as we’ve become more transparent, we have to listen to what comes back in from people who think we’re not doing it right or missing the story. I hope that, with greater transparency, we can show readers why we deserve their time and their trust. I also hope it makes — I also hope it makes it more likely that we question ourselves in the process of explaining our work to others. So I look forward to hearing more from a lot of people today and it should be so fascinating. Thank you for letting me started off.

Curtis Houck
Curtis Houck
Curtis Houck is the Managing Editor of NewsBusters for the Media Research Center