President Trump thinks some journalists should be executed, according to John Bolton’s upcoming book

Trump continues to put journalists at risk from those who view his words as more than a catchphrase at a rally or remark in administration meetings.

June 18, 2020
Category: Newsletters

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“These people should be executed.”

Who said that? President Donald Trump. And who was he talking about? Journalists.

This is according to an upcoming book set to be released next week by former national security adviser John Bolton. The Washington Post obtained an advance copy of the 592-page book titled, “The Room Where It Happened: A White House Memoir.”

There are many stunning claims in the book, most notably that Trump asked Chinese President Xi Jinping to help him win the 2020 election; that Trump told Xi that building concentration camps for Muslims was “exactly the right thing to do” and that Bolton portrays Trump as “erratic” and “stunningly uninformed.”

Then came Trump’s remarks about the media. Bolton described a summer 2019 meeting in New Jersey when Trump said journalists should be jailed so they have to divulge their sources.

“These people should be executed,” Trump said, according to Bolton. “They are scumbags.”

Executed? It’s stunning that an American president would actually say such a thing. But the thought that this particular American president would say it should come as no surprise. He has spent the past three-plus years calling the media the “enemy of the people” and using the kind of rhetoric that dictators use in places where journalists actually are murdered.

This kind of talk not only goes against everything a democracy should stand for, but continues to potentially put journalists at risk from those who view Trump’s words as more than a catchphrase at a rally or remark in administration meetings.

His words are dangerous. But, sadly, not that surprising.

Reviewing the book

Former national security advisor John Bolton. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey, File)

The New York Times’ Jennifer Szalai reviewed Bolton’s book. Szalai listed many of the incidents Bolton recounts in his book, such as asking China’s help in winning the 2020 election. She writes, “In another book by another writer, such anecdotes might land with a stunning force, but Bolton fails to present them that way, leaving them to swim in a stew of superfluous detail.”

She closes with, “It’s a strange experience reading a book that begins with repeated salvos about ‘the intellectually lazy’ by an author who refuses to think through anything very hard himself.

Talking to Bolton

ABC will air a primetime special Sunday night at 9 p.m. Eastern with ABC News chief global affairs correspondent Martha Raddatz interviewing Bolton about his new book. In the first clip, seen on “World News Tonight,” Bolton talked about Russian President Vladimir Putin, saying, “I think Putin thinks he can play (Trump) like a fiddle.”

Clips of the interview also will be shown on other ABC News shows, such as “Good Morning America,” “Nightline” and “This Week.”

So why are we watching?

If you watch Tucker Carlson’s show on Fox News, you shouldn’t expect to get the facts. That’s not me saying that (although, truth be told, I think that).

That Carlson doesn’t have an obligation to find out the truth and that his viewers don’t expect facts is the jaw-dropping assertion made by, of all people, a Fox News lawyer defending the network in a lawsuit. Fox News is being sued for slander by former Playboy model Karen McDougal after Carlson claimed, on air, that McDougal extorted and threatened the president following their alleged affair.

Fox News lawyer Erin Murphy argued that Carlson did nothing wrong for a variety of reasons, including that Carlson consistently said he was speaking in hypotheticals. Then she said, “What we’re talking about here, it’s not the front page of The New York Times. It’s ‘Tucker Carlson Tonight,’ which is a commentary show.”

But even if it is a commentary show, shouldn’t viewers have an expectation of truth? Especially if the show appears on something called Fox News?

Carlson isn’t John Oliver. This is not “The Daily Show,” which is clearly understood to be an entertainment show. Fox News promotes Carlson as a legitimate news person and for an attorney representing the network to say that there should be no expectation of facts is an amazing admission. Do Sean Hannity and Laura Ingraham also fall under these loose rules?

The Hollywood Reporter’s Ashley Cullins wrote:

“While discussing what constitutes reckless disregard for the truth in regard to the actual malice standard, (U.S. District Court Judge Mary Kay Vyskocil) asked Murphy, ‘Does somebody in Mr. Carlson’s position have the duty of inquiry?’

“Murphy replied, ‘Not as to an actual malice standard. The Supreme Court could not be clearer.’ She argued malice isn’t a negligence standard and ‘failure to investigate’ the truth of a statement doesn’t suffice.”

Legally, perhaps Murphy is right. Ethically? That’s another story.

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Looking for a comment

The Huntington News is the student publication at Northeastern University in Boston, and yet they claim they have not spoken to university president Joseph Aoun, some senior administrators or department heads for several years, despite repeated requests. Journalists at The Huntington News took to social media this week to register their complaints.

In an op-ed signed by 60 Northeastern alumni, the claim is that Aoun hasn’t spoken to the paper since 2013. However, Aoun has done interviews with The New York Times, CNN and Forbes.

A Northeastern spokesperson — Michael Armini, Northeastern’s senior vice president for external affairs —  told The Boston Globe’s Diti Kohli that requests from The Huntington News are evaluated like every other media request.

“We are not singling out The Huntington News,” Armini said. “When they reach out, we evaluate and assess the best way to respond.”

It’s hard to believe the president of Northeastern University hasn’t had time in seven years to speak to the student newspaper. However, Armini told the Globe that the media relations office has turned down interviews with The Huntington News in the past because of the paper’s frequent errors.

Armini told the Globe, “Our concern is that there’s a constant requirement for a correction after almost every story we read. Stories are frequently inaccurate, and efforts to obtain critical facts are treated as a last-minute afterthought.”

Again, that seems like another reason to talk to the student paper — to help make sure the stories are accurate. All in all, it certainly appears as if Northeastern is neither being transparent nor doing anything to help the students they are there to educate — a grossly irresponsible tact for a school of higher learning.

“There have been few instances where we can interview higher-up faculty,” Huntington News editor-in-chief Kelly Chan told the Globe. “The whole process is very tedious and hinders student reporters, especially when we are reporting news that’s specific to the Northeastern community, like reopening school in the fall.”

The paper is independent from the school and they haven’t had any financial ties since 2008.

A look back

Before becoming one of the most respected media columnists in the country, The Washington Post’s Margaret Sullivan was the top editor at The Buffalo News. In her latest column, Sullivan looks back at a time when she, to use her words, “messed up badly” as the paper covered a mass shooting in which eight people — all Black — were shot outside a downtown restaurant. Four died then and another man died years later after being paralyzed in the shooting.

The reason for the 2010 shootings was a mystery. Sullivan said the News published and “prominently displayed” a story that looked into the criminal backgrounds of some of the victims. Sullivan, at the time, thought the information could help solve what had happened.

The result? Sullivan writes, “The black community was furious, accusing the paper of deepening the pain of family and friends who were mourning and burying their loved ones. They were right: The story unintentionally put the blame in precisely the wrong place.”

Sullivan’s column then goes into what happened next as she met with members of Buffalo’s Black community. It’s well worth your time to read her account.

Meet the new boss

Roxanna Scott. (Courtesy: USA Today)

Roxanna Scott has been named managing editor for sports at USA Today. Scott is the former president of the Association for Women in Sports Media. She has been the assistant managing editor for sports at USA Today, directing the coverage of six Olympics. She also has been the managing editor Golfweek, which provides golf coverage for the USA Today Network. She has been with USA Today since 2006. Before that, she was at The Dallas Morning News.

In a statement, Scott said, “I look forward to leading this team of talented, smart and dedicated journalists as we drive the national conversation in sports. While setting records and winning championships makes headlines and earns our attention, it’s often the athlete’s voice or act of protest off the field of play that have a lasting impact on society. We will tell stories about how sports unite and inspire us, but also of the way they challenge us to think and see the world differently.”

Scott replaces Dave Ammenheuser, who became a regional sports editor in Tennessee.

Media tidbits

  • Changes at CBS News’ Washington bureau, according to Variety’s Brian Steinberg. Christopher Isham, the bureau chief for more than a decade, will concentrate on the 2020 election before leaving CBS at the end of the year. Ingrid Ciprian-Matthews will serve as interim bureau chief and help search for Isham’s permanent replacement.
  • WBUR, the public radio station in Boston, will lay off more than 10% of its staff, including several newsroom leaders. The station also reported it will stop producing the nationally-syndicated sports program “Only A Game.” The station blamed the restructuring on the “coronavirus-induced recession.”
  • Well, this is cool. The Washington Post is giving employees a $1,000 bonus as a thanks for all their work during the coronavirus, according to Washingtonian’s Andrew Beaujon.
  • The Wall Street Journal’s Ben Mullin and Anne Steele report that Kim Kardashian West has signed an exclusive podcasting deal with Spotify that will include her work with the Innocence Project, a nonprofit that works with those believed to be wrongly convicted of crimes.

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Have feedback or a tip? Email Poynter senior media writer Tom Jones at tjones@poynter.org.

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