On Sunday’s MediaBuzz, Fox News Channel host Howard Kurtz interviewed Sinclair’s Full Measure host Sharyl Attkisson on a variety of topics, including the media’s overreaction to “joking exchanges” between President Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin at the G-20, but the pair primarily focused on the collapse of “neutrality and fairness and ethical standards” in the age of Trump.
After briefly discussing the exchange between Trump and Putin at the G-20 summit, Kurtz asked Attkisson: “In your view, has the overall mainstream media coverage of this President been not just negative but has it bled over into being hostile?”
Attkisson replied that “it has,” arguing that “we as journalists, regardless of how the subject of our reporting treats us, have an obligation to maintain our normal neutrality and fairness and ethical standards.”
According to Attkisson, “what’s been different about this President and the way we’ve treated him is we have overtly suspended many of our normal ethical standards and practices because we have declared him to be uniquely dangerous and hostile to America.”
She also delivered a message to her former colleagues in the liberal media: “It is more important than ever when you’re covering somebody that you don’t like or don’t agree with, to maintain your ethical standards. That’s really the reasons, I think, that those exist.”
Later, when discussing media coverage of sexual assault allegations, Attkisson stressed that “we as journalists should point out both sides and should be mindful that although we want to believe women and that victims are typically to be believed, we as journalists can’t suspend, again, our ethical standards and practices and the thought of evidence just because we like somebody or we feel sorry for them or we wish to believe them.”
The segment ended with a discussion on Attkisson’s reporting on the southern border. Kurtz wanted to know: “When you have been down there, have you seen a different picture than, let’s say, the overall media narrative?” She acknowledged that her reporting has defied the conventional wisdom about border towns, specifically mentioning how “tough” the majority-Hispanic city of Laredo, Texas is on border security.
Attkisson described the relationship between Laredo and Mexico as “textured and nuanced and much more like what you hear from the general public than what you may see represented on the news” before Kurtz concluded that Attkisson’s experiences at the border proved that “when you actually report a story, you may see things that are different……than a narrative.”
During the discussion on her reporting at the border, Attkisson stressed that she did not go into stories with “an agenda of what kind of story to prove or cover.” Perhaps if more journalists followed Attkisson’s lead and also took her advice about “neutrality and fairness and ethical standards,” more Americans might actually trust the media.
A transcript of the relevant portion of Sunday’s edition of MediaBuzz is below. Click “expand” to read more.
11:31 a.m. Eastern
HOWARD KURTZ: Many journalists are upset to say the least, by a couple of joking exchanges at the G-20 in Japan between the leaders of America and Russia.
PRESIDENT TRUMP: You don’t have that problem in Russia. We have it. You don’t have it.
VLADIMIR PUTIN: Yes, yes, yes. We have the problem.
PRESIDENT TRUMP: You still have it?
PUTIN: The same.
REPORTER: Mr. President, will you tell Russia not to meddle in the 2020 election?
PRESIDENT TRUMP: Yes, of course I will. Don’t meddle in the election, President. Don’t, don’t meddle in the election.
KURTZ: It was loud in there. Are the pundits overreacting to a light moment? Joining us now, Sharyl Attkisson, the host of the Sunday program Full Measure on Sinclair television station. So, is the President trolling the media here? I mean, he’s joking with Putin about Russian interference in the election, which is well documented and about fake news and getting rid of the journalists with an authoritarian whose regime murders journalists and jails them.
ATTKISSON: Well, there’s certainly room for criticism. That’s sort of his MO, isn’t it? But as your clip pointed out, there was a reporter who said to President Trump “are you going to tell Putin not to meddle in the 2020 election?” It’s a sort of question for which there’s no right answer. We ask them all the time because it may elicit, I guess, a newsworthy response and it did but either could have ignored it or said yes or said no and what he did was choose to make a little bit light of it.
KURTZ: Right. He was asked about that in a follow-up press and just sort of deflected it, rather than say I was only joking. There is, as you know as well as anyone, escalating rhetoric on both sides; the President, he recently accused The New York Times of treason or of virtual treason in connection with a story about cyber warfare against Russia. In your view, has the overall mainstream media coverage of this President been not just negative but has it bled over into being hostile?
ATTKISSON: It has. And, you know, people rightfully point out President Trump’s own role in that but I then go back to arguing that we as journalists, regardless of how the subject of our reporting treats us, have an obligation to maintain our normal neutrality and fairness and ethical standards and what’s been different about this President and the way we’ve treated him is we have overtly suspended many of our normal ethical standards and practices because we have declared him to be uniquely dangerous and hostile to America, so, you know, we’ve excused ourself. I argue that it is more important than ever when you’re covering somebody that you don’t like or don’t agree with to maintain your ethical standards. That’s really the reasons, I think, that those things exist.
KURTZ: I’ve argued that as well and just because the person doesn’t like you or your profession or attacks your profession, there’s no justification for suspending those standards as you just put it so well. Another issue that’s kind of bubbled back into the news, start with this, Dean Baquet, Executive Editor of The New York Times, now says his paper was overly cautious in covering the 25-year-old sexual assault allegation against Trump by advice columnist E. Jean Carroll. The paper had interviewed Carroll about her new book, which is where this allegation appears, but didn’t feature the story on the front page or its homepage.
E. JEAN CARROLL: I think most people think of rape as being sexy.
ANDERSON COOPER: Let’s take a short break.
CARROLL: They think of the fantasies.
KURTZ: And why she didn’t go public with her story about Trump allegedly raping her in a New York department store’s dressing room back when other women were making allegations against Trump in 2016?
ALISYN CAMEROTA: Did you consider speaking out then?
CARROLL: No, because they were doing the job, they were coming forward, they were…you know, an army of women was…they were coming forward so I sat back and let the…also, I thought it was my fault and when…if I was going to come forward, I would have to say I was stupid, I was…I was a nit wit.
KURTZ: So, The New York Times covered it, published the story, checked it out, said we couldn’t corroborate it, has since gotten two of her friends, who she told later, to go on the record.
ATTKISSON: Who didn’t want to be named.
KURTZ: Didn’t want to be named initially, now have been named and, but now, after that criticism, the Times editor says, well, we weren’t aggressive enough, and then on Friday, front page story, long story about E. Jean Carroll. So, it’s not just the Times but other outlets, are they sort of feeling the heat from the left over this?
ATTKISSON: Well, they are in public outcry. Maybe the #Metoo movement and so on but I don’t think it’s our job to kind of respond to the reaction to how we covered a story and then cover it differently. I really don’t want to second-guess the Times’ own assessment of itself, that’s what they view that they…they were overly cautious but as a journalist, I don’t think overly cautious, particularly for stories and allegations like this, is a bad thing. I looked back to…during the Clinton years, we at CBS News, when I worked there, had many more allegations than we ever reported on and we deliberated those with a lot of thought because…it wasn’t because we didn’t believe the women, we weren’t in a position to know enough. There wasn’t enough evidence to point to that would justify, based on our ethics and standards, making a story that could be so damaging out of the things that they were saying.
KURTZ: Is this about Trump or others?
ATTKISSON: This was about Clinton in the past, Bill Clinton.
KURTZ: I do seem to remember that environment.
ATTKISSON: So I’m saying, you know, I think overly cautious is not a bad thing when we’re talking about these sorts of allegations.
KURTZ: Right. Now, Trump didn’t help himself by saying, of E. Jean Carroll, “well, she’s not my type.” A lot of people found that offensive but in this climate for journalists, given how difficult it is for women to come forward, are they almost allowed to say “well, I have doubts about her story” or “she’s saying some odd things in interviews,” as we just saw?
ATTKISSON: You know, on Full Measure, we covered a story that I called it “Shades of Gray” and it looked at the very valid #Metoo movement, components of that, but how that can be weaponized in a way that is unfair to the people who are accused and may not be guilty and we had an example a man who was accused of rape allegations, was, was…the, the police were told that he was guilty of rape and so on. In the end, he wasn’t; he sued, the woman retracted her claim but he had been destroyed. I think we as journalists should point out both sides and should be mindful that although we want to believe women and that victims are typically to be believed, we as journalists can’t suspend, again, our ethical standards and practices and the thought of evidence, just because we like somebody or we feel sorry for them or we wish to believe them.
KURTZ: That’s a great example, Now, you have reported several times from the Mexican border. We’re going to talk about this week’s events in the next block, but when you have been down there, have you seen a different picture than, let’s say, the overall media narrative?
ATTKISSON: Yes, and I’ll be heading back down there in a couple of weeks for more reporting, and I go and just listen. You know, I don’t go with an agenda of what kind of story to prove or cover and what I hear when I’m there is far more reflective of what the polling shows nationally that, you know, a vast majority of the American public is compassionate and feeling about the problems that people have when they’re coming here and want to come here but also believe we should have a secure border and that we have, have a problem. One of the most interesting stories was when I went to Laredo, Texas, which is…has a Hispanic mayor, mostly Hispanic town, Hispanic law enforcement, they are tough, boy, on border security there and they explained why. There’s a criminal concern if they are not protective of the border in their community. They also rely on business south of the border with their friends in Mexico, so it’s an integral relationship to Laredo, but it’s textured and nuanced and much more like what you hear from the general public than what you may see represented on the news.
KURTZ: So, it’s a classic example of when you actually report a story, you may see things that are different…
KURTZ: …than a narrative, which is not to say there hasn’t been good reporting on this subject but I also will talk about this next block, I think there has been people who have very definite views about it. Sharyl Attkisson, great to have you back on the program, great to see you.
ATTKISSON: Thanks a lot.