WASHINGTON – Former Wall Street Journal editor George Melloan today defended journalists against President Trump’s characterization of the New York Times and other outlets as the “enemy of the American people.”
Melloan’s comments came after he indirectly criticized the New York Times for liberal bias and “interpretative” news gathering that he said is hurting the paper’s reputation.
“He says outrageous things, and that’s his shtick,” Melloan, who retired in 2006, said at the Heritage Foundation. “Of course, (Trump’s tweet about the New York Times is) totally outrageous. Even some of the papers I disagree with, commentators I disagree with, are not enemies of the American people. They think they’re right, and so what can you do? Trump has just as much First Amendment right as I do, and he can say what he wants.”
Trump in February tweeted, “The FAKE NEWS media (failing @nytimes, @NBCNews, @ABC, @CBS, @CNN) is not my enemy, it is the enemy of the American People!”
Melloan said it’s unclear who is winning the war between Trump and the media since he took office, though sometimes he believes it’s the president.
Last week, Dean Baquet, executive editor of the New York Times, explained the newspaper’s recent decision to print to a full page of “lies” attributed to the president.
“I actually chose to use the word ‘lie’ on the front page of the New York Times, which was a controversial decision,” Baquet said. “And I think a lot of thoughtful editors would disagree with it, but we do not do it all the time – we did it that one time. I think the way that you cover him is, if he says ‘x’ and it is wrong, you report out why.”
Melloan did not name the New York Times directly, but the event’s host, Heritage senior fellow Mike Gonzalez, jokingly said the paper was grateful that he did not name the organization, to which Melloan laughed.
“I think that hurts those publications that have allowed that because they lose their credibility,” Melloan said. “Journalists are human, and they’re all guided by the pictures in their heads, of course.” Melloan described how journalism has “mutated” from objective reporting into a platform that allows an “interpretation license.”
Former President Jimmy Carter told the New York Times in a recent interview that the media has been “harder on Trump than any other president certainly that I’ve known about.” Melloan said that certain elements of the media have “been unfair.”
Melloan argued that Trump likes to attract criticism, and even thrives on it. He said the president has invited this “open, free exchange of insults” with the media, and he’s well aware of the “outrageous” things he has said in using this “interesting” political strategy.
“He knows what he thinks he’s doing. He gets attention, and that may help him to get a few things done – certainly become president, which is an accomplishment,” Melloan said.
Melloan appeared at the Heritage Foundation in support of his book Free People, Free Markets: How The Wall Street Journal Opinion Pages Shaped America, which details how the Wall Street Journal evolved into a domestic and international authority on political and economic discussion.