Some days, everything we try to say as journalists comes out wrong. People notice, and people are picky.
The Tribune just got beaten up for a careless tweet that gave the wrong person the right one’s due.
— Chicago Tribune (@chicagotribune) August 7, 2016
A Tribune news story followed that was better, but not better enough. The headline said:
Corey Cogdell, wife of Bears lineman Mitch Unrein, wins bronze in Rio
— Julie Silver (@JulieAnnSilver) August 8, 2016
And so forth. As always, there were men who stepped up in their own way to sound supportive:
@chicagotribune Nice one, dickheads.
— Ferdinand Kingsley (@ferdosnandos) August 7, 2016
And a few readers meekly suggested the majority was missing a point. To be honest, this is what occurred to me. What we had here, minus Corey Cogdell’s husband’s employment, was a young woman from Alaska winning a bronze medal in a sport that possibly ten Tribune readers have any interest in. It’s unimaginable that the Tribune would even have tweeted her medal, let alone written an article about it, if she hadn’t been married to Mitch Unrein.
Yet the reason the Tribune paid her bronze any attention was being deemed unmentionable in the attention the Tribune paid. It was one of those tricky situations that can be collected under the catchall category of some days it doesn’t pay to get up in the morning.
And face it: the Tribune could have done better. The tweet could have said something like: “Corey Cogdell wins bronze. Husband plays for Bears.”
Well, anyway, in journalism—though John Oliver now has us wondering for how much longer—tomorrow is always another day.
But what did the next day bring? Donald Trump, pimping a crowd in North Carolina about the Second Amendment. This time, I’m the picky reader.
“By the way, and if she [Hillary Clinton] gets to pick—if she gets to pick her judges, nothing you can do, folks,” Trump warned. “Although the Second Amendment people, maybe there is, I don’t know.”
Reporters covering the event labored to convey Trump’s remark evenhandedly. They stressed its ambiguity, as if judgment should be reserved until more was known about what Trump meant.
The New York Times called Trump’s words “oblique” but said they “appeared to raise the possibility that gun rights supporters could take matters into their own hands . . . ” Mother Jones said Trump “seemed to suggest” but what he meant “isn’t entirely clear.”
The Washington Post said Trump “appeared to encourage gun owners to take action” but “it was not clear whether Trump was inciting gun owners to use their weapons against judges or a sitting president, or was encouraging some other action.”
Given the media’s hesitation to declare what Trump meant, his camp had all the room in the world to insist on what he didn’t mean. The Tribune reported that Trump headquarters blamed the “dishonest media” for misinterpreting him, while Trump himself told Sean Hannity he was talking about voting power and “there can be no other interpretation.”
What I think these reporters understood—but didn’t feel it was their place to say—was that Trump had no intention of being clear. He’s a master of the pregnant remark that hangs in the air for the audience to make of what it will. Don’t find out from Trump what he said. Find out from his audience what they heard.
Thanks to the license he enjoys as a columnist to add his two cents’ worth, Tom Friedman of the New York Times did the best job I saw of getting at what Trump’s speech was all about.
“And that, ladies and gentlemen, is how Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin got assassinated,” Friedman began. “His right-wing opponents just kept delegitimizing him as a ‘traitor’ and ‘a Nazi’ for wanting to make peace with the Palestinians and give back part of the Land of Israel. Of course, all is fair in politics, right? And they had God on their side, right? They weren’t actually telling anyone to assassinate Rabin. That would be horrible.”