Last week in this space I reported on the people who were so dismayed by the November election that they couldn’t even bear to watch the news. Instead they were wringing their hands in despair.
My column suggested a few alternatives and it got more response than most columns. I even got a letter from a staunch conservative who had his own suggestions for things that ought to be done in the next few years (see page 2 of this issue). I also heard from women planning to march on Washington on the day after the inauguration — we are advocating for change, they argued, we are not just wringing our hands.
I also discovered that a corresponding march is being planned closer to home, in Trenton, that same day. Women are planning to gather at the War Memorial at 10 a.m. and then march about a half mile to the State House. The Trenton march is one of 170 “sister marches” around the country that will complement the Washington event. For information visit www.sites.google.com/view/womensmarchonnewjersey
One of the women making that trip to Washington, Jenny Ludmer of Princeton, alerted me to a group called Action Together-Central New Jersey. The group is on Facebook at Action-Together-Central-New-Jersey. The group has also organized a campaign called Make the March Count: www.makethemarchcount.com
At the national level, a group called the Indivisible Guide has formed, run by former Congressional staffers who witnessed the influence wielded by the Tea Party in the early days of the Obama administration. The guide is basically a progressive’s rewrite of the Tea Party playbook. “If a small minority in the Tea Party can stop President Obama, then we the majority can stop a petty tyrant named Trump.” Since I began researching this topic a little more than a week ago the number of local action groups registered grew from 350 to more than 3,000. As someone once sang, the times they are a’changin’.
Alumni of the Bernie Sanders campaign have formed www.BrandNewCongress.org, “a campaign to run 400-plus non-politician candidates for Congress in 2018 in one unified campaign behind one plan to rebuild the economy, repair our communities, and radically reform our institutions.” It hopes to run the campaigns linked together with an organization on a scale similar to a presidential campaign.
And an article in the January 7 New York Times suggested an entirely new way for progressives and liberals to express their opposition to hate-spewing websites like Breitbart.com and fake news organizations: By watching what reputable companies place ads on those websites and then appeal to those companies to spend their ad dollars elsewhere. A Twitter group called Sleeping Giant (@slpng_giants) has formed to show large corporations how their media purchases are supporting websites contrary to their social values.
I even heard from a reader who appreciated my proposal for folks who believe that climate change is a serious issue to spend a week this summer without air conditioning. He appreciated it, but admitted he would run the idea past his wife first. Small steps are OK.
The scene is changing so quickly that I plan to follow up this report with another next week. But before I sign off here let me address some questions about the media’s role in this brave new Trump world.
Sam Wang, the Princeton neuroscientist and election poll aggregator, has been paying close attention to the news media’s political coverage and noticed the sometimes glaring inability of headlines to capture the essence of articles. Wang asked his nearly 30,000 Twitter followers a question: “Do you know how to contact headline writers at media outlets?” Headline writers, he wrote, are “a population whose importance is under-appreciated.” Media critic and NYU journalism professor Jay Rosen noted in a lengthy post-mortem on the press that Trump uses Twitter “to deflect, distract, intimidate, monopolize, and confuse . . . Don’t let his feed set your agenda. And learn to be more careful with your headlines! That may be all he wants: your lazy headline.”
Wang received lots of responses, most of which were related to circumstances at specific newspapers. I added my own response: “Short answer: Write letter to top editor — the good ones always welcome and share criticism with their staff.”
The long answer is that lots of different people might write a headline, depending on the type of story, when it breaks, what section it’s in, etc. My suggestion is to evaluate the headline along with the story. And don’t ever forget that editors like letters, especially when they are directly related to a story they have printed. No, Princeton’s business and entertainment newspaper will not print every letter concerning the proper role of the Fed in a healthy economy. But it might print a letter concerning research at Princeton or Rutgers that is related to climate change. Letters, incidentally, may have more readership than the original story.
In addition to responding to stories already in print or online, political activists will want to suggest stories that support their point of view. Again, the story pitches and the people to whom these pitches should be directed vary from publication to publication. Starting at the top is never a bad idea.
When you send a story idea to anyone in the media, be aware that most editors and writers are either overworked or burned out. And, sadly, editors and writers are sometimes guilty of not reading carefully every item presented to them.
MSNBC’s Lawrence O’Donnell made this point on the opening day of the current Congressional session. The headlines all stated that Republicans had taken their first step to repeal Obamacare, with the introduction of a 55-page budget proposal. In fact, O’Donnell said, the 55-page document never mentioned Obamacare — a separate reconciliation bill would be needed to begin any effort to dismantle the act. But the budget proposal did reveal that the Republican plan carried with it a $500 billion loss in the first year, with larger deficits in subsequent years. A good story, lost in the Obamacare headlines and superficial reading of a 55-page document.
The takeaway for concerned citizens trying to get their point heard by the media: Don’t assume your lengthy polemic will be read cover to cover. Prepare a summary, highlight relevant passages. Make it easy for reporters and editors to do what you want them to do.
My colleague Barbara Fox, who has been following this media post-mortem, had a helpful idea for “ordinary” concerned citizens trying to make sure important issues are not overlooked: “Reporters are going to be looking for sources beyond the usual ones. If you know about a broken promise, a sullied right, a violation of civil rights — contact a reporter. If you see something say something,” wrote Fox.
It’s easy to think that the press is irrelevant in a world in which the president-elect can communicate directly with more than 19 million followers on Twitter. I don’t think so. The media still validates other people’s opinions and — when not challenged — sometimes unintentionally validates lies. Remember Dick Cheney’s argument on Meet the Press in 2002 for invading Iraq: “There’s a story in the New York Times this morning . . . and I want to attribute to the Times” that Iraq was acquiring materials needed for a nuclear weapon. That comment was widely reported. That fact that Cheney had leaked the speculation to the Times was not reported.
So correcting, and elaborating on what is published in the media is a good thing, in my opinion. But bear in mind that the news media, with few exceptions, is only going to report the news, not make it. More on what’s happening — beyond hand wringing — next week.