Karen Peterson

Karen Peterson: Journalists not at war, just at work

Staff Photographer

President Donald Trump’s press conference on Thursday drew a lot of attention, which seemed to be its purpose. It also gave Trump a direct opportunity — beyond his tweets — to complain about stories, reporters and news outlets he doesn’t like.

High on his enemies list are two newspapers doing the most pointed accountability reporting on his administration: The Washington Post and The New York Times.

A couple of TNT readers reached out last week, echoing Trump’s rhetoric or opinions they’d heard on cable TV.

One of them wrote this:

“I am concerned that you continue to report on articles published by NT(sic) Times and the Washington Post concerning the Trump administration. Their headline today reads “Trump Campaign had contact with Russian officials” and buried deep in the article is the fact their sources are all unnamed and there are no facts to support there was any interference in the campaign. While we know the WP and NYT are biased in their reporting, the level of biases is beyond the pale.

“Poll after poll shows the vast majority of the American people have no confidence in the news media to accurately report the truth, especially as it relates to Republicans and Trump. You report on the low level of confidence in the government but the fact of the matter, the polls show the trust in media is significantly lower.

“It appears you have not taken any steps to correct the bias. It’s ironic you write articles about government’s need to be transparent and truthful with the voters yet you continue your bias and fail to take any action to correct the problem.

“You need to put all stories concerning politics from the NYT and WP on the editorial page not as legitimate news story. The real story that no one will write or publish is the intentional efforts by the media to distort the truth. You will continue to be blinded by your belief that journalistic integrity is still practiced today and that you practiced it. However, an honest appraisal will reveal otherwise. If you continue on this path, I’m sure the little relevancy you now have will be gone and when people may really need to believe in the reporting, they will not be able to do so.

“Not expecting any response or changes.”

I wrote back right away:

“You are right (to) expect no change in our usage of New York Times or Washington Post stories. You are wrong to assume you won’t get a response.

“These two news outlets are breaking news every day that obviously doesn’t make the Trump administration happy, but is revealing to the rest of the country what’s going on behind closed doors.

“Take the Michael Flynn dishonesty and cover-up. The administration says it was told on Jan. 26 that Flynn discussed sanctions with Russia, contrary to what the American public was told and contrary to what the vice president was told.

“By their own admission, the administration sat on the misinformation for more than two weeks and told the truth only AFTER The Washington Post reported that Flynn could no longer remember what he’d said. My guess is that without an independent news outlet — and a fine one — doing its job, you and I and Mike Pence would still be in the dark about Flynn’s backdoor call to the Russian ambassador on the same day the former president was issuing sanctions.

“The administration can gripe all it wants about the press, but so far, it hasn’t said The Washington Post got it wrong. Do you have information otherwise?

“The New York Times reports today that four government officials say the Trump campaign was talking to Russia in the time leading up to the election — contrary to what Trump was telling you and me. Again today, Trump is complaining about the leaks and the press, but I haven’t heard him say the Times got it wrong.

“I don’t like unnamed sources any more than you do, but sometimes they are the only way to get important information from people who are in jeopardy of losing their jobs. I appreciate that in this case, it’s FOUR sources corroborating the information.

“You say they cite no proof. The lead of the story says it’s based on phone records and intercepted calls.

“You’re right — the story says officials saw no evidence of cooperation between the two sides, but it also says, “the intercepts alarmed U.S. intelligence and law enforcement agencies, in part because of the amount of contact that was occurring while Trump was speaking glowingly about the Russian president.”

“I’d say that’s newsworthy. You don’t?

“I don’t personally give a hoot about polls, (reader name removed). Right now the American press has a big job to do and the stories you reference are proof we are doing it.

“Thank you for your note, Karen.”

The complaints aren’t surprising. Our own watchdog work sometimes is unpopular with the people or agencies we’re covering. And we must continue to be on guard for bias in our reporting and that of news organizations whose stories we publish.

But the president’s obsessive shoot-the-messenger campaign is getting in the way of addressing important issues this country faces — security, health care and jobs to name a few.

He could take a page from Washington Post editor Marty Baron, who said at a conference last week regarding his paper’s coverage of the president, “We’re not at war with the administration, we’re at work.”

Karen Peterson: 253-597-8434, @TNTkpeterson