Sullivan’s warning: Journalists must be on high alert


NEW YORK (AP) — Margaret Sullivan once backed down when former Washington Post colleague, critic Carlos Lozada, tweeted in exasperation about books presented to her as combinations of memoirs and manifestos.

That’s exactly what she wrote.

Sullivan’s ‘Newsroom Confidential’ traces his career from The Buffalo News to The New York Times and The Washington Post, but its meat lies in the challenge she tells her fellow reporters in the Trump era: Too many times she has seen reporters slow to acknowledge the threats posed to democracy during her presidency and now, with Donald Trump poised for a potential comeback and his supporters, Sullivan has said she feared the reporters were unprepared.

“There always seems to be a pattern of not wanting to offend,” she said, “not wanting to offend the Republican establishment, not wanting to offend Trump Republicans, but rather normalizing them with a democracy on the edge of the abyss. I don’t think that’s the right approach.

Several news agencies now have special beats to cover threats to the electoral process. Sullivan acknowledges this work and praises Harrisburg, Pennsylvania radio station WITF, which regularly reminds listeners of local lawmakers who rejected the 2020 election results.

To move forward, journalists must stand up for the truth and not amplify the words of politicians who refuse to acknowledge it, she said.

The problem hasn’t gone away, as illustrated last weekend when CNN’s Dana Bash fight with Lake Kari, Arizona’s Republican candidate for governor. Bash repeatedly asked about false fraud reports and pressed Lake on whether she would accept her own election results. Lake complained that Bash was focusing on old news.

“I don’t think it’s about being aggressive,” Sullivan said. “I think it’s about framing things differently so that we don’t see this very high-stakes politics as a game, we don’t see it as a horse race, we don’t see it as entertaining. We see it as extremely consequential and occurring before our very eyes.

Press criticism is not new; for example, media performance before the Iraq war was widely condemned, said Philadelphia Inquirer columnist Will Bunch. But few of those raising concerns have Sullivan’s stature, he said.

“This criticism doesn’t come from the outside,” Bunch said. “It comes from someone who is in many ways the ultimate insider. People at the highest levels are going to have to engage with someone like Margaret.

But, Bunch conceded, “listening to it and doing something about it are two different things.”

The concern is whether the hostility towards the press has reached a point of no return. Too many Americans are out of touch or more interested in their own beliefs than the truth, Sullivan said.

“Those two things are very, very disturbing,” she said. “Do I think we have gone too far? I don’t want to think that.

Born and raised in nearby Lackawanna, New York, Sullivan was a summer intern in 1980 at what was then called the Buffalo Evening News. She rose through the ranks of the newsroom to become its editor in 1999. She describes the sexism she encountered along the way, such as when an older editor took credit for her idea .

Those were good years, foundation years, for newspaper work.

“Journalism offered a viable career path,” she wrote. “It might not be a great way to get rich, but definitely a way to make a living. As a bonus, it looked extremely cool to me.

She wasn’t intimidated when she spotted an opening for the position of editor of The New York Times in 2012, pursuing it fiercely. Local papers were shrinking, and she didn’t have the stomach to run The Buffalo News in a diminished state.

The public editor is a thankless job. You find yourself in a press room, tasked with publicly evaluating the work of those around you. Nobody likes to be criticized, whether it’s someone at the highest level of journalism or the person serving you coffee.

Sullivan became known for her direct writing on The Times during her years there, tackling issues such as the overuse of confidential sourceshis cover of Hillary Clinton emails and national security issueseven making fun of fashion trends praised by the Styles section.

In four years, she has never had a completely comfortable day, she writes.

“I loved being an underdog,” she said in an interview. ” Its important to me. I was an underdog at the Times and when I felt like I was losing a bit of that – I was asked to stay longer – I left of my own free will because I thought these people were starting to feel like my friends and I didn’t think it was healthy.

The Times had another editor after her and has since abolished the position of public editora decision she doesn’t agree with but doesn’t expect to be reversed.

She moved to the Post as a media columnist, never realizing how much time she would spend writing about Trump and his anti-norm presidency.

Five years later, feeling exhausted from writing columns, she felt it was time to move on. She had written a book about local news decline and found she liked the shape. She quit the Post and wrote “Newsroom Confidential,” and her next step is to teach at Duke University.

What Sullivan left behind is the starkest of warnings. American journalists, she wrote, “should put the country on high alert, with blaring sirens and flashing red lights.”


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