But this has not happened. Why not?
Not knowing the answer, I decided to speak with many intelligent people to find out why.
I did it because the story would have led you to believe that most of the editorial advice from American newspapers / digital sites would have already passed that level. To be clear, the editorial boards are the group of writers and editors behind the daily news editorials – which appear in the editorial pages – which reflect the values of the newspaper. These are separate from the “editorials” commissioned by opinion editors from external authors who reflect a range of opinions, often in contrast to those of the editorial board.
Don’t punch Nixon and Clinton
The House Judiciary Committee approved three articles of impeachment for Nixon and sent them to the House; he resigned before they could vote on them.
Twenty-four years later, in 1998, more than 100 newspapers asked for the resignation of President Bill Clinton, both during the investigations of Kenneth Starr and during the subsequent impeachment process for obstruction of justice and perjury, due to his relationship with an intern of the White House.
Peter R. Bronson, then editor of the Cincinnati Enquirer editorial page, told the Times: “‘As soon as we saw the Starr report and got down on our knees, we said:’ This stinks, we’ve seen enough, the evidence is compelling and harmful, ” said Bronson.
The terrain changes
And Trump’s crimes were much broader than Clinton’s: he used American foreign policy to get a political favor, and he also certainly had a fair amount of obscene scandals
What has changed?
It seems almost everything, starting with the media: the explosion of news networks 24/7 and the infinite horizon of Internet-on-demand has caused some newspapers to bend or shrink and lose relevance. The lucky few left standing staggered for a decade trying to return to the news domain. Papers lost advertisers, lost readers and increasingly lost influence on the public, especially on editorial pages: so many journalistic opinions were readily available from many other new online sources.
Why have so many editorial pages tightened – again and again – against Trump’s behavior in the most vehement terms, through scandals, impeachments, rude pandemic responses and much more, yet they won’t ask him to leave?
New reluctance of editorial commissions
I have asked this question to more than a dozen experts, media columnists, editorial writers, academics and journalists from the White House. What emerged was not a simple explanation, as New York University journalism professor Jay Rosen explained, but a number of factors that discouraged editorial pages across the country from taking this bold step.
At the heart of these, according to John Avlon, a senior CNN political analyst and former editor-in-chief of the Daily Beast, is that “the reality of hardened partisanship is beyond reason. We have become truly disarmed by our best civic traditions.” And one of our best civic traditions used to take political leaders into consideration – demanding, in extreme situations, that they resign.
Almost everyone I spoke to mentioned the times: the reluctance of the editorial boards to urge Trump to step down so close to the election. A publisher (who preferred to remain anonymous) in a major newspaper said that his editorial board approached Trump’s request for deportation during his impeachment, but added “my question is why now when the elections will be decided in six months. “
At some level this argument makes sense: voters should have the final say on the President’s future. But the sign is missing, given that many editorial pages have already ruled out, for example, the President’s management of the pandemic, a tragedy that has cost more than 78,000 American lives so far, without facing his suitability to continue serving. Any CEO who was held responsible for unfolding a mass tragedy would immediately be called to resign or be fired, even if six months after retirement.
When I asked my question to Margaret Sullivan, media columnist for the Washington Post and former public editor of the New York Times, she replied speculating or spitting, as she called it: “It could have something to do with the awareness that this appeal it would not be effective, but it would also deepen the rampant polarizations among citizens. And for some, it would aggravate the resentment of the traditional press, if this were possible even at this point “.
Loss of relevance in the new media landscape?
In fact, Sullivan’s speculation has captured the consensus of everyone I’ve talked to. Jonathan Karl, the main White House correspondent for ABC News, was one of them. He said “maybe it’s the fact that there is zero percent [chance] he (Trump) would [resign] or that someone in his party would ask him to do it. “He compared the situation to Clinton, where many in the press thought he could step down and many editorial pages responded with their calls.
Karl makes an important point: although there was no possibility of Clinton resigning (I know because I was there), there was the possibility that members of his own party might request it, something I then know from my personal experience as well.
Karl’s argument about futility resonates, in part because of Sullivan’s polarization mentioned above. The only problem with his theory is that editorial pages take positions every day knowing that they won’t be able to convince politicians – or the public – most of the time.
The changing nature and business models of local newspapers also play a role. Jay Rosen of New York University again: “Local newspapers are weaker institutions, have declined a lot in terms of quality, scope and authority. This gives some of them less confidence in their voice, especially in the regions where they know they will receive rejections “. Both Rosen and Brian Stelter, CNN’s main media correspondent, stressed the budget cuts that often hit editorial pages even before they hit reporters. In addition, the Internet, which if nothing else is full of opinions, has diluted the impact of the editorial pages of the main newspapers, making them less relevant.
But the answer to my questions goes beyond the effectiveness of the media or its business models. It has a lot to do with Trump himself – and the tactics of the right wing of American politics.
The power of the right
Kurt Bardella, a former Republican who was the spokesman for the House and government oversight committee, said: “Donald Trump and his allies in the right wing have invested so much time in creating the false narrative that the mainstream media they are false and the enemy of the people. I think the media fall into their trap of not wanting to go a certain path because they are worried about being labeled partisan or partisan. “
Jay Rosen takes a similar approach, saying that the right wing “working the refs” strategy works. But it goes further: “You cannot overlook the level of flak, push-back and general hatred that newspaper publishers get from Trump supporters for something like this … publishers challenge these attacks every day, but it can make you think two times.”
Almost all the editors and columnists I spoke to echoed a certain empathy for editorial page editors and the resignation that nothing could change soon.
But Playboy columnist Brian Karem was less charitable. “The main newspapers are shaky, not on the solid financial ground of 10 years ago,” he said in an email. “They are afraid of losing other advertisers or readers … they don’t see the need to reverse the trend or even join it … It is unlikely that we will find a Katharine Graham in the era of Donald Trump – even if we desperately need it” .
He was referring to the Washington Post editor who endured a huge backlash when he chaired the document during the news on Watergate that led to Nixon’s resignation.
So where does this leave us? Have the nation’s editorial boards – with so many of them clearly and frequently expressing no confidence in this President’s ability to do his job – give up on their duty?
I agree with Professor Rosen’s admonition that there are no simple explanations … and I think my friend Brian Karem is a little tough.
In my opinion, there is a simple solution to this problem. They should go fight. If the president is unsuitable for leading the country, then say so. And if lives are at risk and our Constitution is attacked on a regular basis, then it is the duty of our great editorial pages to seek the definitive remedy: a request for resignation.
Yes, elections are only six months away and voters should usually have the final say. But if the President’s policies are a clear and present danger to the Americans, or his behavior – like that of Clinton and Nixon – so outside the agreed norms, because the guardians of truth in the first editorial pages of the nation scream: must go?
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