Last night was the annual dinner of the Committee to Protect Journalists, a black-tie affair that’s also a kind of tribal reunion for those of us who have spent careers in journalism. It’s usually devoted to raising money for, and paying tribute to, journalists who have been jailed, killed, or otherwise hampered in their efforts to report in oppressive regimes.
But last night’s comments repeatedly returned to the situation here in the U.S., where relations between President-elect Trump and the press – or what he routinely calls the “corrupt media” — have become increasingly tense. Hosts for the dinner included New Yorker editor David Remnick and CNN chief Jeff Zucker, both of whom warned that the fight for press freedom has moved “close to home.” Remnick, an unrestrained Trump critic, wrote yesterday of the unusual meeting between Trump and top press executives in which the President-elect accused CNN and NBC, among others, of spreading lies and fake news, and also complained about pictures used to portray him.
CNN’s Christiane Amanpour, one of the award winners of the evening, warned in her speech that journalism faces an “existential crisis,” not just because of Trump’s attacks, but also because of the rise of fake news sites, and the increasing difficulty of distinguishing fact from fiction on social media.
“We have to accept that we’ve had our lunch handed to us by the very same social media that we’ve so slavishly been devoted to,” Amanpour said. “The winning candidate did a savvy end run around us and used it to go straight to the people. Combined with the most incredible development ever –the tsunami of fake news sites – aka lies – that somehow people could not, would not, recognize, fact check or disregard.” You can read her full comments here.
Needless to say, those of us who gather at fancy press dinners deserve to be dinged for missing the intensity of the anger that drove Trump voters, whose ranks are thin – if not nonexistent – in most New York newsrooms. But a well-functioning press is still a necessary component of a free society. And how well the press can function in the era of Trump is one of many questions hanging over the months ahead.
Enjoy the holiday. News below.