Helen Geckle / Gavel Media

Maggie Haberman and Journalistic Responsibility

With the benefit of hindsight, the violent conclusion of former President Trump’s efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election was predictable. But the (somewhat) unprecedented nature of his party’s claims and actions made the situation from the middle of November 2019 to late January 2020 incredibly volatile and unpredictable. For the first time in over two centuries, the intentions of a lame duck president were completely unclear, prompting extreme measures such as impeachment and the ensurement that nuclear weapons won’t be deployed due to the president’s anger and mental instability. In other words, information was scarce. 

Fortunately for the American people, our nation is home to a number of dedicated journalists who truly fight to uncover truth and hold our elected officials accountable. Unfortunately for the American people, just as many of these journalists are primarily beholden to profit.

Released on October 4th, longtime journalist Maggie Haberman’s new book Confidence Man: The Making of Donald Trump and the Breaking of America is ostensibly a fresh, tell-all look inside the Trump Administration, with a special focus on the months following Trump’s failed re-election bid. However, the information provided by Haberman did not simply elaborate on events that the American public knew about. Instead, it has become abundantly clear that Haberman deliberately withheld crucial information about Trump’s intention to stay in the White House, even prior to the attempted coup on January 6th, 2021. For example, Haberman writes that Trump told several aides of his aim to disregard the democratic process, explaining “I’m just not going to leave,” to one and “We’re never leaving. How can you leave when you won an election?” to another.

That information would have been nice to know back before five people lost their lives in a violent insurrection against the seat of American government. By retaining these blatantly impeachable direct quotes from the President of the United States until they could be packaged for profit in a book deal, Haberman raises serious questions about her commitment to the best interest of our democratic process and nation. Is putting our democracy in jeopardy worth it in exchange for a slightly more profitable release? Is it not a sad violation of journalistic integrity to contribute to Trump’s deception surrounding the election results by withholding these words? 

To put it differently, this tweet perfectly satirizes the problem at play here: 

SCOOP: Nuclear weapons to vaporize the earth tomorrow. In an exclusive from her new book, Maggie Haberman reveals that three years ago, Vladimir Putin told her he planned to destroy the world on September 13, 2022.

As an aside: I’ll admit that the immediate release of these quotes would not have dramatically changed how late 2020 played out (especially relative to that nuclear armageddon joke). January 6th would likely still have occurred, as insurrectionists are not likely to believe the reporting of the "Fake News Mainstream Media", and Trump would almost certainly not be convicted in the Senate and removed from office due to morally bankrupt Republican Senators. However, this point is irrelevant. Journalists still maintain a responsibility to report on critical news, even if said reporting does not change the minds of its consumers.

Therein lies the true lesson of this situation: in recent years especially, the fourth estate has been derelict of its duty to report on the current state of our country and world. The problem extends beyond newspaper journalists such as Maggie Haberman or Bob Woodward. As is natural in an advertising-dominated industry, television news is required to appeal to the greatest volume of viewers. Hyperbole, scare-tactics, and shock value take precedence over integral journalistic principles such as the priorities of fact and fairness. The best story is the most addicting story: the most immediate example being the two to five billion dollars worth of free media coverage provided to Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign. Truly an ironic reality of how the aforementioned democracy-threatening, lives-ending story Haberman got to profit off of was the product of the monster she and journalists like her created, as Haberman was first hired to the New York Times to cover the 2016 election.

As the Washington Post would put it, democracy dies in darkness. This is not an ideal time for journalism, an institution our nation heavily relies upon, to be dominated by profit-driven demagogues solely in search of their next Pulitzer bait. Current affairs must be reported on and presented to the American public in a fair manner so that we can make informed decisions about our direction. So long as Maggie Haberman and journalists like her ignore that responsibility, we can reasonably expect our socio-political state to continue its steady, destructive decay. 

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