No Room for Fake Journalism

By Phineas J. Stone

Let me be the one-millionth person to weigh in on the Boston Globe’s fake Donald Trump front page.

But maybe let me be the first “weigher in” with some 20 years of experience reporting the news in Boston and with a journalism degree.

The news – and just the news – is a very hard commodity to find these days.

The Globe has long had a slant going back to the early 2000s, so much so that their ombudsman has had to apologize for how news stories were framed and issues not fully reported from all sides. Even this week, a front-page Metro section story in the Globe railed about a state senate race unfolding on Beacon Hill, East Boston and even parts of the South End. The article, a news article mind you, commented in the second paragraph that the seat has long been controlled by “white men” from East Boston. That sentence was apparently there to plant the seed that a white man in control of the seat was a detriment or somehow oppressive or immoral. Reading the article, one would assume that the reign of the white man was over.

Never mind that five of the seven candidates for the seat were white men, and a white man eventually won, beating another white man.

Race, of course, had nothing to do with it. The comment makes a whole lot more sense when one realizes it was likely placed to line up with the Globe’s endorsement of one woman in the race, and it’s runner-up endorsement to the second woman in the race.

I’ve watched them do this sort of thing for years, and it’s how I think they got to the dark place they landed upon in Sunday’s paper.

A fake front page has no business in journalism.

No paper, even when it puts the fake page in its ‘Ideas’ section as a cop-out, should be predicting the future for readers – telling them what they “think” is going to happen. How is it they know what will happen? How do they know a Bernie Sanders presidency wouldn’t cripple the economy on day one? How do they know that a John Kasich presidency wouldn’t just elicit more of the same we have today, which stinks and everyone knows it?

No matter where you stand on the presidential race, no matter how much one might dislike Donald Trump, they should just as much be against the fake front page because it robs them of information and exchanges it for propaganda.

Readers deserve information that comes from an observer. It helps the democracy stay well-oiled. Of course, I took two semesters of journalism ethics classes as a student of journalism, and we learned that no one is unbiased and no story can be unbiased. The trick is to know yourself well enough to recognize your biases, I was taught, and suppress them with a self-discipline that allows you to listen and hear all sides fairly, even the sides of those you might not like – in the Globe’s case, Donald Trump. Only then can you “frame” the story in a fair way that comes from a point of view and gives the reader all the necessary information.The major warning through those 12 months of classes was not to fall into the idea that you as a reporter or a paper are agenda-setters – or those charged with leading the thoughts of others.

“Never think of yourself as more than an observer weighing all sides of the issue fairly!” my professor would yell. “That goes for reporters, editors and even the owner!”

This week that man, a former journalist who always wore a tattered suit and constantly carried a 5 o’clock shadow, is doing flips in his grave. I imagine he would say it was the work of an English major or a history student, rather than a serious student of journalism.

I often see old front pages from the Globe in restaurants around Boston that highlight the political history of the City with well-written stories.

“Collins takes South End, wins JP, to take mayor’s office in a landslide,” trumpeted one page.

I also have old papers from the 1930s that an elderly woman brought me many years ago when she was cleaning out her attic. The journalism practiced in those papers is far different than what one might read in the Globe. It was certainly the glory days, and what a powerful publication it was.

I wonder what happened to the gatekeepers from those times who would have shot down the idea of a fake front page in casual conversation around the water cooler, long before it could even be suggested in an editorial staff meeting.

What would have better than the fake front page would have been actually examining what Trump has said about his southern wall project. Anyone who has ever been to the southern border (and I have many times) understands it is absolutely out of control and something needs to happen there. Voters need to choose what direction it should go based on information.

Donald Trump’s plan to surcharge remittances is intriguing – and in fact a very good idea. Contrary to what President Obama has said, we do keep track of remittances by number of transactions, country destination and amount sent. This newspaper group did a study in 2012 on that issue, and based on state records for one year, found that almost $250 million was sent out of the country from four of the poorest communities in Massachusetts alone. That’s a lot of money, especially from a poor area, and millions could be reaped with a surcharge on each of those transactions just in those four communities. Other countries actually already have a surcharge, using the money for government operations and special projects. There are billions of dollars, similarly, going to Mexico from around the United States and we know where, how much and when due to concerns over terrorism financing concerns. Would a surcharge work? Could we use any money gained from a surcharge to help with border security? Why wouldn’t the Globe pursue those questions?Instead we get fake stories that, if one reads them, are not even plausible in some cases.

I heard the young lady from the Globe on the television explaining the rationale for the fake front page. She was smiling and so proud of the charge she had led, the assault on Donald Trump. After all, you could tell she felt as if he was a bully and she had shown him. She was proud of her fake front page, never mind that generations of credibility were thrown out the door with that one move. But far be it for a young lady like her to consider the past or the future.

Newspapers don’t do fake front pages.

The Boston Globe did.

So, we must now ask: What is the Boston Globe?

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