A version of this article first appeared in the “Reliable Sources” newsletter. You can sign up for free right here.
The American democracy was sorely tested over the past four years. Wednesday’s inauguration of Joe Biden is a testament to its resilience. Wednesday is also a long-overdue opening of the tent — with Kamala Harris becoming the first woman, the first Black person and the first South Asian to be elected VP.
Biden is entering office with a reservoir of goodwill. Almost six in ten Americans view him favorably, according to CNN’s latest polling. And even some people who are so-so about Biden are rooting for Harris and the belated leap toward equality that she represents.
The immediate question: Will they squander this goodwill in the first week with crowd size controversies and lies about voter fraud? No, almost certainly not. Will anti-Democratic media outlets stir up faux-scandals that muddy the first week anyway? Yes, they almost certainly will. And so it begins.
Hoping the war on truth will abate
Robert McLean edits the “Reliable Sources” newsletter most nights, so he has had an up-close view of the war on truth that has raged for the past four years. On the eve of Biden’s inauguration, he wanted to write about his hope for the next four years. So I’m handing the reigns to Rob, starting now:
My calling to journalism has always been rooted deeply in the idea that an informed electorate is a safeguard against despotism and would-be tyrants. Capable journalists report facts — key to understanding the world around us — without spin or putting their thumbs on the scale of opinion.
If a legacy brick-and-mortar retail company declares bankruptcy, we report information from the court filing.
If a Silicon Valley company flags a security breach to its clients, we report on how the breach happened and what it could mean for those customers.
And if a politician is caught lying, we report on that falsehood and provide to our audience what is objectively true. This is not a partisan issue. But for the last four years, my colleagues and I have been cast as villains by the leader of the free world. The person whose job it is to defend the Constitution — and by default a free press — labeled us as “enemy of the people.” We’ve been harassed, assaulted, and even had to evacuate our offices after bomb threats, all spurred by the rhetoric of a US President desperate to cast doubt on objective reality.
That effort to subvert truth came to a head two weeks ago when the US Capitol was assaulted by those who believed lies that aligned with their own world views.
But despite President Trump’s best efforts to distort reality, we in the press have continued our jobs unabated. We covered the first impeachment – and the second. We have counted every life lost to the coronavirus pandemic. We’ve exposed misinformation, including from Trump, all the way through Tuesday night.
I’m hopeful that the war on truth ends with Wednesday’s inauguration. President-elect Biden has already signaled far more support for a free press than President Trump and his administration ever did.
On a November broadcast of “Reliable Sources,” Biden aide TJ Ducklo said Biden “believes that the media is a critical piece of our democracy; that transparency is incredibly important.” Transition officials said they would restore the daily press briefing – a duty to the American people that the Trump administration tarnished before abdicating altogether. True to the incoming admin’s word, incoming press secretary Jen Psaki will hold an on-camera press briefing on Inauguration Day.
While I’m relieved our next President has signaled support for a free press, I know that he and his administration’s leaders will be annoyed with some of the coverage in the coming years. That’s how it is supposed to work. I know that capable journalists will cover Biden as aggressively as they covered Trump, Obama, Bush and every previous administration.
The types of questions responsible journalists pitch to lawmakers help keep America’s leaders accountable to the people they serve — because they aim to reveal objective truth about our government. Truth has been shrouded by Trump’s lies for four years. I don’t know what Biden will do. But I know that the press will continue to report facts, point out lies and inform the American electorate — as we always have. That’s the job.
Thank you Rob!
DARCY HAS A MORE PESSIMISTIC TAKE…
The physical manifestation of our info-crisis
Oliver Darcy writes: “When Americans turn on the television Wednesday, they will see an inauguration like no other. National Guard troops. Road blocks. Fences with barbed wire. Which is to say, they will see the physical manifestation of our information crisis. That’s what the current state of DC represents. Yes, Trump’s lies bear a large bulk of the responsibility. But our information infrastructure is what allowed those lies to spread to millions and radicalize those who stormed the Capitol earlier this month. And it is what is largely responsible for the current locked-down state of our nation’s capital.”
Some Trump fans think he’s about to declare martial law
Alex Koppelman and Donie O’Sullivan write: “A sizable group of people who believe the lie that the election was stolen from Trump and that someone or something – the courts, state legislatures, members of Congress, VP Mike Pence – would stop Biden from being inaugurated have not been dissuaded from that belief. Instead, they came to believe that the only thing left is violence, and blood. They are convinced Trump is about to institute martial law – and they can’t wait.” Read about this sickness here…