Will news media step up to face the threat to democracy?

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President Donald J. Trump talks with reporters along the South Lawn of the White House Wednesday, Oct. 31, 2018, prior to boarding Marine One to begin his trip to Fort Myers, Fla. Photo by Joyce N. Boghosian, Official White House, Public Domain.

American democracy is arguably “on the brink,” and “I don’t think the news media should be asleep at the switch as they have been.” That’s according to Margaret Sullivan, a veteran of almost 10 years as media critic and columnist for the New York Times and  the Washington Post. Changing how politics are covered is a major theme of her new book, “Newsroom Confidential: Lessons (and Worries) from an Ink-Stained Life.”

Covering politics like a “horse-race” or for “palace-intrigue” doesn’t work anymore, Sullivan says, because “threats to our political system are really important.” Sullivan tells Warren Olney, “We need to be clear and transparent with readers, viewers, and listeners who are depending on us for news.”

Sullivan explains that “objectivity” can’t just mean equal treatment for opposing candidates when some are actually anti-democracy. “If we treat them equally and give them the same weight, we are not doing a public service. … We can’t give a free microphone to election deniers or people who won’t accept the results if they lose.”

“I grew up in the Watergate era and my family was glued to the Watergate hearings when I was a kid and somehow that got into my blood,” says Sullivan. “ I thought that the work done at the Washington Post by Woodward and Bernstein was very intriguing. I got into journalism in high school, came to The Buffalo Evening News as a summer intern and I did over time and become the first woman editor of the paper.”  Margaret Sullivan.  Book cover:  “Newsroom Confidential: Lessons (and Worries) from an Ink-Stained Life.”




Warren Olney


Andrea Brody