Mainstream media strikes back

jules witcover

WASHINGTON — The New York Times Editorial Board made an uncommon decision Wednesday to publish an anonymously written opposite-page opinion piece disclosing an embryonic “resistance” movement to President Trump within his White House.

It was so unorthodox that, anticipating public pushback, the Times invited reader response. Trump was swift to howl that it was the “fake news” of which he has endlessly complained. The board argued that the contents were so critical, not to say explosive, in terms of the function of the executive branch that publication was clearly in the national interest.

At the same time, it was obvious that the Times publication appeared to reinforce the picture of a White House in grave dysfunction offered the previous day by premier presidential sleuth Bob Woodward in his host newspaper, The Washington Post.

The story in the Post gave the paper another clear beat over the Times in ongoing coverage of the Trump administration, and cause for skeptics to wonder whether the timing and manner of if the Times publication had been driven to some degree by journalistic competition.

Ordinarily, one might have expected the Times, coming upon such an explosive inside story, might simply have assigned one of its most veteran political reporters to interview the anonymous source and write what he or she had to say.

Instead, the decision was made to give the report very strong editorial emphasis, which in crass terms of journalistic competition gave the Times a major piece of the action on this blockbuster story broken by Woodward in the Post.

In any event, the two accounts clearly drove to lesser importance the other major ongoing political story, the Senate confirmation hearings of Judge Brett Kavanaugh to fill the vacancy on the Supreme Court.

More significant in this context was Trump’s seizing on both the Post and the Times stories to escalate his war on the free and independent American news media. This time he outdid himself by tweeting that the anonymous author of the Times op-ed should be arrested and turned over “to the government” as a traitor.

Furthermore, he questioned whether protesting government policy generally should somehow to be outlawed, in blatant contradiction to the constitutional right of assembly. All this is precisely the sort of ill-informed and reckless presidential behavior and thought that generated the internal Trump White House tell-all accounts now roiling official Washington.

As many as 300 American newspapers had already signed on to join a Boston Globe initiative to rally the free newsgathering business against Trump’s declaration of the press as “the enemy of the people.”

Woodward in his years of admirable commitment to investigative journalism into governmental abuse and illegality continues to play his part. Now the Times has explicitly enlisted, pointedly endorsing the pushback of an anonymous Trump White House official against Trump’s chaotic and possibly criminal management of the executive branch.

Not surprisingly, this unorthodox president cites both examples in encouraging his political faithful to maintain their support of his blatant and cynical war on freedom of the press, while further poisoning the public discourse with his own serial lying and misrepresentations.

Isolated examples of individual threats of violence or death against working journalists, fanned at Trump political rallies across the country, illustrate the depths to which this reckless president seems willing to go save himself and his high office.

Meanwhile, speculation grows of sentiment within his White House of Cabinet members and other high officials considering resort to the 25th Amendment providing for removal of a president “unfit” for the office.

It authorizes them to so declare to the Senate and House leaders such unspecified unfitness, subject to two-thirds majority of Congress, whereupon the Vice President assumes the role of Acting President, until or if the President declares his fitness to resume his duties.

Such a scenario seems far-fetched right now, with impeachment a more possible alternative in the hands of a trial in the House and conviction by a two-thirds vote of the Senate, never yet imposed on a sitting president.

In any event, the fat is in the fire more certainly than ever between this defiant and unorthodox president and the mainstream news media self-appointed to keep tabs on him.

Editor’s note: Jules Witcover’s latest book is “The American Vice Presidency: From Irrelevance to Power,” published by Smithsonian Books. You can respond to this column at