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Tuesday, January 17, 2017

At Tulane appearance, columnist Charles Blow defends the press in 'fake news' era

Posted By on Tue, Jan 17, 2017 at 2:30 PM

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In a Jan. 16 conversation that ranged from his childhood chasing hogs in Gibsland, Louisiana, to a discussion of the ultra-polarized 2016 election, New York Times columnist Charles Blow defended the media against charges of bias and stressed the importance of its role in the Trump era.

In a packed-house appearance at Tulane's Dixon Hall sponsored by Amistad Research Center, Blow — who is known for his commentary on race, the Black Lives Matter movement and national politics — objected to characterizations of the contemporary news media as lacking in objectivity. He points out that there are 1,200 reporters in the Times' newsroom and just 10 op-ed columnists.

"[Reporters are] calling it as straight as they see it," he said. "[And] it would be impossible to do [op-ed journalism] without people writing straight news stories."

Blow said some of the confusion stems from the rise of 24-hour cable news networks, where some of the best-known personalities are commentators or pundits, rather than reporters.

He was, however, critical of some editorial decisions at various media outlets related to the 2016 presidential election. For example, he spoke at length about BuzzFeed News' recent decision to post an unverified dossier which made startling allegations about President-elect Donald Trump's activities in Russia.

He chided the outlet for publishing the document without confirming its contents — "Even with the new media landscape, the old rules still apply," he said — but pointed out that the same standard of verification and source vetting had not been applied to the release of emails sent by Hillary Clinton's campaign staff, which were obtained via Wikileaks hacking and widely reprinted by mainstream media outlets.

"[Media] still chose to be complicit in that crime," Blow said.

Blow has been a vocal critic of the president-elect, and took a few moments at this appearance to condemn Trump's remarks about making it easier to sue journalists and the incoming administration's indication that it may move the White House press corps to an off-site location, rather than its traditional position in the James S. Brady Press Briefing Room. Without safeguards, he said, the press can't do its job of holding the powerful to account.

"[The press] is literally the only thing that stands between you and anarchy," he said. "This [democracy] is a beautiful fragile experiment ... we are seeing some worrisome signs."

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