Pence on NYT Op-Ed

Staff & Wire Reports

FILE - In this Aug. 23, 2018, file photo, Vice President Mike Pence speaks during a visit to NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston. Pence says he's "100 percent confident" that no one on his staff was involved with the anonymous New York Times column criticizing President Donald Trump's leadership. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip, File)

FILE - In this Aug. 23, 2018, file photo, Vice President Mike Pence speaks during a visit to NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston. Pence says he's "100 percent confident" that no one on his staff was involved with the anonymous New York Times column criticizing President Donald Trump's leadership. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip, File)

Vice President Mike Pence speaks to airmen during a visit to Nellis Air Force Base in Las Vegas, Friday, Sept. 7, 2018. (Steve Marcus/Las Vegas Sun via AP)

Pence confident no one on his staff wrote NY Times column


Associated Press

Monday, September 10

WASHINGTON (AP) — Vice President Mike Pence says he’s “100 percent confident” that no one on his staff was involved with the anonymous New York Times column criticizing President Donald Trump’s leadership.

“I know them. I know their character,” Pence said in a taped interview aired Sunday by CBS’ “Face the Nation.”

Some pundits had speculated that Pence could be the “senior administration official” who wrote the opinion piece because it included language Pence has been known to use, like the unusual word “lodestar.” The op-ed writer claimed to be part of a “resistance” movement within the Trump administration that was working quietly behind the scenes to thwart the president’s most dangerous impulses.

More than two dozen high-ranking administration officials have denied writing the column. Pence said his staff had nothing to do with it,

“Let me be very clear. I’m 100 percent confident that no one on the vice president’s staff was involved in this anonymous editorial. I know my people,” Pence said on “Face the Nation.” ”They get up every day and are dedicated, just as much as I am, to advancing the president’s agenda and supporting everything … President Trump is doing for the people of this country.”

Asked whether he had asked his staff about the op-ed, Pence said, “I don’t have to ask them because I know them. I know their character. I know their dedication and I am absolutely confident that no one on the vice president’s staff had anything to do with this.”

He restated that he thinks the essay writer should do the “honorable thing and resign.”

Publication of the op-ed followed the release of stunning details from an upcoming book by Watergate reporter Bob Woodward in which current and former aides referred to Trump as an “idiot” and “liar” and depicted him as prone to rash policy decisions that some aides either work to stall or derail entirely.

Both releases are said to have infuriated Trump, who unleashed a string of attacks on Woodward’s credibility and dismissed the celebrated author’s book as a “work of fiction.” Some of the officials featured in the book’s anecdotes about the president, including Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and White House chief of staff John Kelly, issued statements denying the comments attributed to them by Woodward.

Woodward has said he stands by his reporting. The book, “Fear: Trump in the White House,” is scheduled to be formally released Tuesday, all but ensuring that the debate over Trump’s leadership ability and style will extend into a second straight week.

Trump, meanwhile, has denounced the Times opinion piece as “gutless” and its publication as a “disgrace” bordering on treason.

Republican Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, a Trump ally, has said the president would be justified in using lie detectors to ferret out the anonymous writer. The president has yet to say whether he’d go that far, but Pence says he’d be willing to submit to such an examination.

“I would agree to take it in a heartbeat and would submit to any review the administration wanted to do,” he said in a taped “Fox News Sunday” interview.

Both Pence and Kellyanne Conway, a counselor to Trump, pushed back during separate television appearances Sunday on the portrayals of Trump as anything but a thoughtful leader. Both also said they had no idea who wrote the piece; Trump has said he can name up to five people who could have written it.

“What I see is a tough leader, a demanding leader, someone who gets all the options on the table,” Pence said on Fox News. “But he makes the decisions, and that’s why we’ve made the progress we’ve made.”

Trump has said the Justice Department should investigate and unmask the anonymous author. He cited national security concerns as grounds for what would amount to an extraordinary criminal probe should Attorney General Jeff Sessions decide to pursue one.

Neither Pence nor Conway answered directly when asked if Sessions should treat Trump’s comments as an order. The Justice Department is supposed to make investigative decisions free of political pressure from the White House and the president.

Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia, the top Democrat on the Senate intelligence committee, disagreed that the opinion piece amounted to a national security threat and attributed Trump’s musing about a Justice Department investigation “to a president who’s lashing out.”

On an unrelated matter, Pence said on CBS that he has not been called for an interview by special counsel Robert Mueller, who is investigating possible coordination between Russia and Trump’s Republican presidential campaign as well as Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. election.

Pence said he’s willing to sit down with Mueller if he is asked and added that he so far has cooperated with all requests for information from the special counsel and will continue to do so.

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The Conversation

Violence against the media isn’t new – history shows why it largely disappeared and has now returned

September 10, 2018


Jennifer E. Moore

Assistant Professor, Department of Communication, University of Minnesota Duluth

Michael J. Socolow

Associate Professor, Communication and Journalism, University of Maine

Disclosure statement

The authors do not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and have disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

Another news outlet has been attacked in the United States.

A man rammed his car repeatedly into Fox affiliate KDFW in Dallas, Texas, on Sept. 5. We can now add this to the growing list of recent attacks on — and violent threats to — the media.

A man recently called The Boston Globe and threatened “to shoot you [expletives] in the head … shoot every [expletive] one of you.” Apparently, the Globe’s defense of quality journalism infuriated him.

At CNN, anchors report an uptick in death threats. And, most tragically of all, there was the shooting of five employees in the office of the Capital Gazette in Annapolis, Maryland, on June 28.

Mental illness, isolation, easy access to weaponry, a renewed white supremacy movement and other variables clearly contribute to the increase in both violent rhetoric and actual violence.

But what these occurrences share, and what they’re illustrating, is a profound hatred towards purveyors of journalism.

This isn’t news. Violent acts against the media are as old as our nation. Perhaps Americans are just not accustomed to seeing the violence because most of them grew up in the second half of the 20th century, an era largely devoid of the partisan rancor that was once a hallmark of American journalism – and which seems to have returned.

Ugly history

As media historian John Nerone writes, attacks on the media occur regularly throughout our history.

James Rivington, an 18th-century loyalist printer in New York City, barely escaped being tarred and feathered by the Sons of Liberty, who ransacked his home.

In the 19th century, attacks on the press were common. Violence and journalism were intertwined in American culture, largely because of the partisan politics most newspapers propagated.

Abolitionist and newspaper editor Elijah Lovejoy was murdered in Alton, Illinois, in 1837. A pro-slavery mob broke into his jail cell – where he had been placed for his protection – and lynched him. One year earlier, in New York City, The New York Herald’s James Gordon Bennett was savagely beaten by his rival, James Watson Webb. Webb edited New York City’s best-selling newspaper, The Morning Courier and New-York Enquirer, and he’d grown tired of Bennett’s attacks in his popular newspaper column.

When Ida B. Wells-Barnett published anti-lynching reports in Memphis in 1892, a white mob destroyed her press and threatened to kill her.

Lovejoy and Wells-Barnett are remembered because they would later be recognized as civil rights pioneers. But the violent confrontation between two of New York City’s most prominent newspaper editors is less well-known, in part, because it occurred at a time when violence against the press wasn’t uncommon.

In the early days of the Republic, U.S. newspapers were not only observably partisan, they were subsidized by political parties. Because newspapers around the U.S. often represented specific political parties, news reports would be politically framed and competing outlets – often serving the rival political party – would be demeaned.

Countless local editors, like Bennett, were attacked. Some, like Lovejoy, were killed for their work. These attacks on journalists were so common that Mark Twain, who worked as a journalist, lampooned them in his classic short story “Journalism in Tennessee.”

Twain’s satire about press violence tells the story of a young editor reporting to the office of The Morning Glory and Johnson County War-Whoop for his first day of work. When he turns in a brief roundup of local news reported by other outlets, his boss is surprised.

“Thunder and lightning!” he says. “Do you suppose my subscribers are going to stand such gruel as that? Give me the pen!”

The chief editor rewrites the piece, insulting and threatening the editors of the rival newspapers. Calling them scoundrels and liars, he excoriates them for “dissemination of falsehood, calumny, vituperation, and vulgarity.”

“Now that is the way to write,” his boss says upon completion of the piece. “Peppery and to the point. Mush-and-milk journalism gives me the fan-tods.”

The ‘News From Nowhere’

“Mush-and-milk journalism” that outraged Twain’s fictitious newspaper editor is inoffensive, neutral and seemingly objective.

It’s that kind of centrist journalism that developed in the 20th century – what journalist and political scientist Edward Jay Epstein called “News From Nowhere” — that many of us grew up on.

The evolution of technology, commercial imperatives and new modes of distribution combined to create American journalism’s era of objectivity.

Selling newspapers to millions in mass audiences, and transmitting identical reports to newspapers around the U.S. via the telegraph, both required neutering any clearly biased news reporting.

Regulatory mandates like the public interest standard and the Fairness Doctrine followed the development of radio and television. They further enshrined a “just-the-facts” sensibility in American journalism.

From our vantage point as historians in 2018, we can now see this era of objectivity lasted from about 1930 to 2000, beginning with the introduction of broadcast journalism via radio to the emergence of the multichannel cable television universe and the web’s development.

In those decades, journalism became less partisan to be more palatable to mass audiences. Every weeknight, CBS broadcast journalist Walter Cronkite soberly told Americans what they needed to know about the events of the day.

And, in this original network era, opinion was separated from reporting and clearly labeled – whether it was on-air commentaries delivered by Eric Sevareid or on specially designated “editorial” or “opinion” pages in newspapers.

Such segregation of reporting and opinion was not the norm in American journalism history. It was a new idea that quickly gained traction because it proved so commercially advantageous.

Creating audiences in the millions, and then the tens of millions – on television – generated unimagined sums of advertising revenue. Removing opinions from most reporting produced enormous profits for television networks, radio stations and daily newspapers. It became commonplace. Americans grew accustomed to it.

Back to the old ways

It appears the cycle has now turned.

Outlets like Fox News, MSNBC, and even some daily newspapers, are no longer as careful about monitoring the injection of subjectivity into journalism.

But they are not entirely to blame. Today’s audiences feel empowered by their autonomy, because they have an enormous number of available and competing media outlets. They can now watch and consume news that best matches their worldview, rather than an homogenized news product designed to be palatable to the masses.

Noting the higher ratings and subscription numbers that accompany this increasing partisanship, news outlets react accordingly. Even more, social media technologies allow audiences to engage with news media like never before, often cultivating a climate of uncivil online discourse. This only intensifies the partisan rancor mirroring 19th-century levels.

Does the end of the depoliticized mass audience era of journalism directly correlate to what seems to be a return of violence against the media?

Until the four journalists were killed in Annapolis early this year (the fifth staffer was not a journalist), only seven had been killed in the last 26 years.

When consumers of MSNBC are baffled by the apparent ignorance of Fox News viewers, and Fox News viewers are sure MSNBC’s fans are dupes, we’ve returned to the world Twain described.

It might be impossible to return to the more civil, professional and respectful era of journalism that many Americans grew up in. But we can, and should, recognize the historic futility of killing the messenger.

Destroying Ida B. Wells-Barnett’s press did nothing to stop the anti-lynching movement, and the murder of Elijah Lovejoy spread the abolitionist message much further than Lovejoy himself ever could.

Why the anonymous op-ed sets a dangerous precedent

September 10, 2018


Michael Blake

Professor of Philosophy, Public Policy, and Governance, University of Washington

Disclosure statement

Michael Blake receives funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities.


University of Washington provides funding as a member of The Conversation US.

The New York Times recently published an anonymous op-ed from a “senior official” in the Trump administration. In the op-ed, the unnamed author describes President Donald Trump as “impetuous, adversarial, petty, and ineffective.” He or she depicts a White House in which the author – together with like-minded colleagues – work to undermine the president’s “half-baked, ill-informed and occasionally reckless” decisions.

Some commentators, making clear that they had difference of opinion with President Trump’s policies, nonetheless, condemned the author for writing the piece – and for working to undermine the decisions of a sitting president.

Steven Pike, a former diplomat in both the Obama and Bush administrations, for example, wrote that the legal remedy for a genuinely incapacitated president involves the use of the 25th Amendment. As Pike observes, if the author believes the president is genuinely not up to the job, then the available recourse is to follow the Constitution, not to “improvise.”

Regardless of its legality, as a scholar who studies political ethics, I would argue the decision to write this op-ed is likely unethical, and could set a dangerous precedent.

Norms of democracy

Democratic institutions require a great many people to do particular jobs – the author of the op-ed included.

He or she serves within a system of defined responsibilities, in which he or she has access to power only because the President has chosen to give it. To refuse to do what that job demands – which includes, in this case, keeping secrets and helping the president achieve his goals – violates the moral norms of professional ethics.

The op-ed, moreover, seems intended to embarrass a sitting president, and to make it more difficult for him to govern.

This seems, to put it mildly, undemocratic. Whatever else is true, the president was elected, and the one who is resisting him from within was not.

Is this civil disobedience?

One could, perhaps, argue that the author is following the American tradition of civil disobedience. Daniel Ellsberg, a military analyst, famously leaked the Pentagon Papers to The New York Times, breaking the law in doing so. He wanted to demonstrate that the Johnson administration had been systematically lying to the American public.

Ellsberg defended himself by using the example of America’s best-known advocate of civil disobedience – Martin Luther King Jr. In King’s letter from Birmingham Jail, King argued that citizens had a moral duty to resist unjust laws, and cited St. Augustine to add that “an unjust law is no law at all.”

The author might try to use these ideas to defend his or her decisions. I do not think the attempt would succeed.

Martin Luther King Jr. with President Lyndon B. Johnson. King said citizens had a duty to resist unjust laws, but that had to be done openly.

King insisted that lawbreaking must be open, and that the lawbreaker must be ready to accept punishment. That was because the law of a democratic society deserves our respect, and ignoring that law with impunity undermines that law’s authority. Thus, King allowed himself to face unjust imprisonment.

The same was true for Ellsberg, who voluntarily provided his name to the authorities, and was subsequently charged with espionage and conspiracy.

In the present case, as we know, the author decided to hide his or her name, and continues to serve in the Trump administration. He or she is unwilling to risk either imprisonment or unemployment. For King, one cannot make this choice. Respectful disobedience to democratic law is possible, but it necessarily involves taking responsibility for that disobedience, and allowing the law to take its course.

The actions that the author describes as “resistance” to the president’s wishes are similarly covert. They have been hidden – at least until now – both from the public and from the president himself.

Both King and Ellsberg broke laws to create public discourse. They sought to focus public attention on particular forms of evil, so as to begin the process of holding that evil to account. The publication of the op-ed, however, does not do the same. If anything, by highlighting the author’s methods of resistance, it will make such resistance more difficult in the future.

Refusal to comply

The author could seek a more radical principle to justify his or her decisions. Perhaps the author’s resistance could be morally justified based on a theoretical approach such as that offered by Arthur Applbaum, a political philosopher at Harvard.

Applbaum has argued that disobedience by officials might be morally legitimate, when that disobedience prevents them from complicity in serious injustice. Applbaum rests his analysis on the limits of what he calls role morality.

The defense lawyer, for instance, does not directly seek justice – her role is to defend her client, and she must assume that the system as a whole will produce justice. When she cannot make that assumption, though – when the system begins to produce profound injustice – Applbaum argues she cannot comply with the moral requirements of the role.

The author of the op-ed could make a similar claim for his or her deviation from the rules of the role they play within the White House. If the author believes that President Trump represents a danger to the United States, it could allow the author to listen to the commands of conscience, rather than the constraints of the job and make the decisions that were made in this case.

Setting a precedent

Even here, though, there are some grave ethical concerns.

The foremost of these is that Applbaum’s justification would only work if the disobedience would actually result in more justice. The permission to break the rules in the name of ethics – whether that involves resisting the president, or breaching confidentiality by writing about that resistance – is not a permission to make a bad situation worse.

Commentators have already noted, however, that this might be exactly what the publication of this op-ed will do. Things may be worse in the White House after this op-ed. They may, in fact, be worse because of this op-ed. The op-ed complains of President Trump’s irrationality and paranoia. Publishing the op-ed is unlikely to reduce either.

Another risk to note is that this extraordinary decision by a senior official to undermine his or her own administration sets a precedent. It announces that this sort of thing can be done, because it has been done.

President Trump’s political opponents have responded to the op-ed with mixed emotions. Jennifer Holdsworth, a Democratic strategist, said that the author of the op-ed was “extremely brave” but also that it was setting a “dangerous precedent.”

FILE – In this Aug. 23, 2018, file photo, Vice President Mike Pence speaks during a visit to NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston. Pence says he’s "100 percent confident" that no one on his staff was involved with the anonymous New York Times column criticizing President Donald Trump’s leadership. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip, File) – In this Aug. 23, 2018, file photo, Vice President Mike Pence speaks during a visit to NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston. Pence says he’s "100 percent confident" that no one on his staff was involved with the anonymous New York Times column criticizing President Donald Trump’s leadership. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip, File)

Vice President Mike Pence speaks to airmen during a visit to Nellis Air Force Base in Las Vegas, Friday, Sept. 7, 2018. (Steve Marcus/Las Vegas Sun via AP) President Mike Pence speaks to airmen during a visit to Nellis Air Force Base in Las Vegas, Friday, Sept. 7, 2018. (Steve Marcus/Las Vegas Sun via AP)

Staff & Wire Reports