I thought our jobs as journalists were going to get a lot less complicated and chaotic once Donald Trump left office and Joe Biden took over.
Was I ever wrong.
With a nation still divided, a pandemic still killing hundreds of Americans every day, an economy hanging in the balance, a rising tide of domestic terrorism and a Congress that seems populated by some of the least talented and least honest men and women since the 19th century, the complicated stories and journalistic challenges just keep coming. Never in my lifetime have media been more important to democracy. But with that opportunity comes huge responsibility. There are a number of hard things we need to demand of ourselves to righteously do our jobs.
Start with the way reporters cover the surge of immigrant children on the U. S. border and President Biden’s decision not to allow the media to see their living conditions under U.S. custody.
The challenge for the mainstream media is to cover Biden just as tenaciously as we tried to cover Trump when there were surges of immigrants during his administration. That is not as easy as it sounds since Trump’s administration separated children and parents at the border, and made a show of it for the cameras as a deterrent to keep other would-be immigrants from heading north. The cruelty of that policy shocked many Americans.
In defending their decision not to give journalists access over the weekend, Biden and his spokespeople stuck to talking points criticizing the Trump administration. The Biden administration was now doing everything to treat the children and teens at the border as humanely as possible, while trying to rebuild the immigration system and find more housing and support, they insisted.
“We’re basically having to build the plane as we’re flying,” Susan Rice, Biden’s domestic policy adviser, said in an interview with The Washington Post.
That’s a nice metaphor, and it is true that Trump dismantled all kinds of government infrastructure. But that does not allow Biden’s administration to deny access to the press. Citizens have a right to know how their government is operating and whether Biden is indeed keeping his promise to be a kinder and more responsible president than Trump. Media need to push back harder in the demand for access.
Journalists also need to keep pushing for more details on the actions of those involved in the deadly insurrection at the Capitol on Jan. 6. The more we find out from video recordings and legal filings, the more organized this attack on democracy looks. We need to know if any members of Congress or members of their staffs helped a mob gain access to the halls of Congress in an effort to stop the certification of Biden as the legally elected president of the United States.
And what about the role of Trump and some of his creepier allies, like Roger Stone and Rudy Giuliani? The New York papers have been reporting the links between Stone and some members of the far-right group Oath Keepers on Jan. 5 and 6. According to a New York Times report, members of the Oath Keepers provided security for Stone at the “Stop the Steal” rally that preceded the march to the Capitol and then participated in the assault on the building.
As journalists, we should not listen to those on the right who are suddenly talking about forgiveness, turning the page and moving on. No, no, no! Give us more, more, more on who did what. And news outlets should use the opinion pages to sound the call for making them pay as an example to anyone who would try to block the results of a legitimate election again. It won’t be easy fighting the short attention span of a society doped out on shorter and shorter media bites. We still have to try.
Finally, whatever we do, we should not turn our attention away from the racial reckoning that caught fire over the summer. There is still so much education, information and history that needs to be reported, written, filmed and shared about the experiences of multiple groups in American life. We need to stay on the case day in and day out, and not just in the aftermath of horrible events like the murders of Asian American women last week in Atlanta.