Bob Franken: Journalists should toughen up

  • By Bob Franken
  • Sunday, June 5, 2016 1:14pm
  • Opinion

I have to confess that I’m not doing a good job as a reporter. I haven’t called Tom Llamas of ABC News so that he could confirm or deny that he’s “a sleaze.” That’s what Donald Trump called him at that bizarre news conference where Trump berated journalists for having the audacity to check into his claims about donations to veterans organizations.

My dictionary defines “sleaze” as “a contemptible or vulgar person,” and it goes on to suggest synonyms like “creep,” “scumbag” and “slime bucket.”

So is someone a “sleaze” who mocks a person with a disability? How about a guy who is charged with fraud in a lawsuit, or whose businesses repeatedly go bankrupt? And what about the man who is accused of treating women like disposable objects? Does spreading hate and constantly lying qualify a person for sleazedom? How about trashing those who are simply doing their jobs seeking to hold a major party’s presumptive candidate for president accountable?

On that last point, I must admit that we make a big mistake when we in the media go totally bonkers whenever anybody attacks us. We show just how thin-skinned and self-absorbed we are every time somebody trashes us. Let’s us not forget, fellow ink-stained and hair-sprayed wretches, that the people we cover are not supposed to like us. And while they’re not as colorful about it, most of them don’t hold us in high regard. If they do, we’re not doing our jobs. When I’ve put together a story, if everybody is angry, I think I’ve possibly done some good work. If not, I worry. That makes me a journalist. Or a sociopath. Of course, the two are not mutually exclusive. Donald Trump, though, simply prefers another S-word. He’s not alone in his contempt. It’s one of the few subjects where there is bipartisan agreement.

Hillary Clinton, after all, hasn’t held a full-blown news conference this year. It’s June. I’m not suggesting equivalency here; Hillary has not called any reporter a “sleaze” — at least not in public. Still, let us not forget that her peeps did try to contain the herd using ropes.

Barack Obama is not considered a great fan of the press either, what with his administration’s record of stifling requests for information and prosecuting leakers. More than a few of us believe that this administration, in its manipulative way, is particularly hostile to journalists. It’s certainly not the first to try to stiff us. Nor will it be the last. In fact, the whole process is too frequently a big deception.

One of my most memorable encounters took place when I was covering Capitol Hill and there was a secret meeting to discuss something controversial. It was supposed to be hush-hush but, typically for these kinds of things, was anything but. One congressional leader in particular was providing me a constant flow of information “on background,” meaning I could report it, but not identify the source. Imagine my chagrin, at the end of the meeting, when that very same congressman held a news conference to raise a ruckus about all the leaks.

Through the entire newser, he looked at me with a slight smirk, knowing full well that I was honor-bound as the leakee not to identify him as the leaker. To this day, I won’t name him.

So rather than getting all bent out of shape, we should thank Donald Trump for being so willing to just dump on us in such obvious ways. No sly little maneuvers with him. Nuance is not his thing.

It could be worse. Rodrigo Duterte — who is the president-elect in the Philippines and who makes Trump look like a wuss — was asked about a rash of media killings. His response: “Just because you’re a journalist you are not exempted from assassination if you’re a son of a b—-h.” It hasn’t gotten that bad here. Yet.


Bob Franken is a longtime broadcast journalist, including 20 years at CNN.

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