Margaret Sullivan’s Final Washington Post Column Cuts To The Chase On Donald Trump!

By Donald A. Collins | 23 August 2022
Church and State

(Credit: YouTube / screengrab)

After 42 years in journalism Sullivan wrote her final column for the Washington Post on Monday August 22nd.

In it she offers her thoughts on how the media should handle the upcoming election cycle, the midterms and the 2024 Presidential election.

I have read this column twice. And I suggest you read it here.

On the positive side she says:

The media has come a long, long way in figuring out how to cover the democracy-threatening ways of Donald Trump and his allies, including his stalwart helpers in right-wing media. It is now common to see headlines and stories that plainly refer to some politicians as “election deniers,” and journalists are far less hesitant to use the blunt and clarifying word “lie” to describe Trump’s false statements. That includes, of course, the former president’s near-constant campaign to claim that the 2020 presidential election was rigged to prevent him from keeping the White House. What’s more, the media seems finally to have absorbed what should have been blindingly obvious from the beginning: Trump is by no means a normal political figure, and he will never reform into some kind of responsible statesman. (Who can forget the perennial predictions that he was becoming “presidential” every time he read from a teleprompter instead of veering off on an insulting rant?)

But she hopes journalists will realize this is not a “on the one side and on the other side” reporting time.

Journalists simply can’t allow themselves to be megaphones or stenographers. They have to be dedicated truth-tellers, using clear language, plenty of context and thoughtful framing to get that truth across.

Please, pundits, stop trying to predict the future. You’re bad at it.

Consider, for example, the disparate presentations that the Associated Press and the New York Times gave to a recent story out of Florida about a new push by Gov. Ron DeSantis to crack down on the supposedly terrible problem of voter fraud; in fact, illegal voting is a rare occurrence, though something that Trump and his allies would have you believe underlies all the efforts to deny him victory.

As Kate Pickert, director of Loyola Marymount’s journalism program, noted last week, AP’s Twitter news alert took DeSantis’s hyperventilating news conference at face value, providing the kind of treatment the governor might have written himself: “Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis announced criminal charges against 20 people for illegally voting in 2020, the first major public move from the Republican’s controversial new election police unit.” Whereas the New York Times tweet cut through the noise (I’ve added the italics): “Gov. Ron DeSantis said 17 people have been charged with casting illegal ballots in the 2020 election, in which 11.1 million Floridians voted. There is no evidence that election crimes are a serious problem in Florida or anywhere else in the U.S.”

Sullivan’s next to final column makes the make point that this election could determine: Whether our democracy preserved or lost to Trump’s or DeSantis’ brand of authoritarianism where we have never been before.

In prior columns I have compared Trump’s behavior to that of Hitler as he came to complete power in Germany in 1933.

Another comparison others and I have made compares the Trump threat as equivalent to 1860 and the onset of the Civil War as comparable but highly different crises for our democracy.

So, this upcoming election cycle—in November and in 2024—are vital times for all citizens who opt for salvaging our democracy versus succumbing to Trump’s goal of taking us into his brand of authoritarianism.

It is admittedly a long political distance from 2024, but the outcome of these midterms will be strongly indicative of where we are headed.

Thus, as Sullivan tells us, this is a different and unique time in the role the media (remember “fake news”?) which is just one of the main institutions of our democracy that Trump and his cronies have constantly attacked and successfully undermined.

1.The Congress now divided to the point of frequently being unfunctional.

2.The Supreme Court was turned into a religious partisan gang against long established women’s reproductive rights and promises threats to other freedoms possible in future terms.

3.The elevation of dangerous fringe media who make advocacy of violence a necessary part of gaining civil rights. This of course was the major tool Hitler used in his takeover in the early thirties!

So, to cut to the chase, Sullivan implores her colleagues to recognize that the old “on the one hand and in the other hand” attempts at reportorial balance doesn’t apply in defending democracy vs authoritarianism, just as freedom can’t abide slavery as co-inhabitants of a free country.

As we recognize that the bottom-line fear Trump and his gag are backing is using racism (the replacement and Critical Race Theory) to lull the unwary into their false version of freedom. Will we keep our democratic principles on track?

Will we? Your call.

Former US Navy officer, banker and venture capitalist, Donald A. Collins, a free lance writer living in Washington, DC, has spent over 50 years working for women’s reproductive health as a board member and/or officer of numerous family planning organizations including Planned Parenthood Federation of America, Guttmacher Institute, Family Health International and Ipas. Yale under graduate, NYU MBA. He is the author of “From the Dissident Left: A Collection of Essays 2004-2013”, “Trump Becoming Macbeth: Will our democracy survive?”, “We Humans Overwhelm Our Earth: 11 or 2 Billion by 2100?”, “What Can Be Done Now to Save Habitable Life on Planet Earth?”, “Vote” and “Can Homo Sapiens Survive?”.

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