In an era when the credibility of news reporting is regularly called into question – including by the president of the United States – Adam Goldman on Thursday told a nearly full University of Idaho auditorium that journalists hold facts in high regard.
Goldman, national security reporter for the New York Times, and a leader in the paper’s reporting on Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into the Trump campaign’s ties with Russia, was the keynote speaker at the UI’s seventh annual Oppenheimer Ethics Symposium. Goldman is also a 2012 Pulitzer Prize winner for work he did as an Associated Press reporter uncovering a clandestine spying program monitoring the daily life of Muslim communities by the New York City Police Department.
“Mr. Trump has weaponized the phrase ‘fake news,’” using it to try to discredit stories the White House doesn’t like,” Goldman said. While all politicians stretch the truth, Trump “has taken that to a new level,” he said. As a result, a fundamental balance of power between government and a watchdog press is at risk of being destabilized.
“You expect government to respond on the level or at least decline to comment,” said Goldman. He contrasted the Trump administration to President Obama’s that preceded it. While Obama officials were just as eager Trump’s administrative team to try to shape news and get unfavorable stories held, and while the Obama White House treated news leakers especially harshly “if we had a story dead to rights, they would admit it,” Goldman said. The Trump administration has sought to deny things as easy to prove as the size of Trump’s inauguration crowd and as serious as former national security adviser Michael Flynn’s contact with Russian officials.
A parade of “white lies,” acknowledged by former Trump communications head Hope Hicks, and so-called “alternative facts” “should scare the hell out of everybody in this room,” Goldman said.
“When you go to the administration and they are not straight about things that are true, there is no reason to trust them when they say you are wrong,” he said. However, healthy skepticism is always a key tool of reporting, he added. “Nobody should take at face value what any administration does.”
An Oppenheimer Symposium organizer and UI journalism professor, Kenton Bird, said Goldman’s presentation accomplished Bird’s goals for the event.
“I wanted to see the auditorium full. I wanted to see our students engaged in asking questions about what is going on in the news and the role of the Fourth Estate in reporting,” Bird said. “And I want the conversations started here to continue for the rest of the semester.”
In response to an audience question, Goldman predicted Mueller’s investigation would conclude by the midterm elections. While he may bring charges against administration officials, Trump is concerned Mueller will forward his findings to U.S. Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, and Rosenstein will decide whether to send the information on to Congress, Goldman said.
“Mueller is going to let Congress sort this out, let the American people sort this out, in terms of Trump.”
No matter the challenges the news media faces in safeguarding its credibility, Goldman insisted journalism will prevail over current attempts to discredit it. “The First Amendment is stronger than Donald Trump,” Goldman said. “Whatever happens to the truth, it is going to survive this administration.”
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