In the article “Trump’s War on Journalism,” the authors, writing collectively as the Los Angeles Times Editorial Board, seek to argue that despite President Trump’s deep dislike of unfavorable reporting on his performance, and the subsequent battles of distrust and belittlement with the press as a result, a free press must continue to openly report in as impartial and open-minded way as possible, and in so doing plays a critical part in American democracy. By focusing on the negative impact of Trump’s own words to dissuade support, and highlighting their own passionate defense for a free press, the authors attempt to disarm Trump’s war efforts as untenable. To which, the LA Times Editorial Board effectively serves us a pathos-laden assessment of Trump’s war strategy, seasoned with just enough ethos producing self-reflection, and just enough reasonable supporting evidence thrown in the mix to keep their argument credible, and keep us reading – at least it did for me.
As journalists for one of the largest urban newspapers in the country, these authors speak with authority to this article’s subject, yet they don’t rest on their newsprint laurels; they seek to create further credibility with the reader throughout the article. For example, admitting to the reader that “we’re not perfect,” regarding unfiltered biases found within media organizations, serves to stimulate respect for their self-reflection; yet, they ultimately drop the ball in substantiating this newly created esteem by using supporting evidence that is weak. They tell us “to do the best possible job, and to hold the confidence of the public in turbulent times, requires constant self-examination and evolution,” but then cite examples that are either dated (the New York Times coverage of the Bush administration and the Iraq war), or self-serving (by saying the media should have seen the threat sooner, and taken Donald Trump’s bid for the presidency more seriously) implying that if they had, perhaps the Donald Train might have been derailed before building so much steam. Neither of these quells an appetite hungry for relevant examples. However, to be fair to the Editorial Board in their attempt to create credibility, they do report the coin of distrust has recently flipped against them in that “trust in the news media is as low as it’s ever been, according to Gallup.” Again, this type of self-assessment keeps the door of credibility cracked open just enough to keep me reading.
We further see the power of ethos at work as the authors juxtapose the characters of Trump and the Editorial Board through several illustrations as part of their supporting evidence. For the Board’s part, as demonstrated above, admitting weakness shows humility of character. And this next example allows our authors to clearly illustrate personal integrity in another powerful form of ethos: taking the higher road. When quoting the Trump administration’s reference to the news media as the “opposition party,” the Editorial Board indicates fighting fire with fire “would be a mistake.” Their take on the subject, as they would have us believe, is that the press should not take sides – with one exception – the editorial pages. “Here,” they claim, “we can and should express our opinions about Trump.” This admonition “not to take sides,” especially as the Editorial Board purports being embattled by the President in his “war on journalism,” leads us to an inspired view from this higher ground, and the view from up here is exhilarating; it feels like sacred ground. And that is exactly what the authors are betting on. It feels so good that we tend to transfer those emotions back to the authors, and experience a sort of kinship of ethics, without ever having met them. This is the power of ethos, and it kept me reading.
Amid the many examples of Trump’s offenses, the LA Times Editorial Board further establishes credibility by laying the groundwork to logically convince us that their claims are obvious. Right in the first paragraph, they reveal their big beef with the Big Cheese when they summarize Trump’s agenda contending, “Journalists are slandered as ‘enemies of the people.”’ By later equating Trump’s political spin as reminiscent of the repressive regime of Josef Stalin, they also play a powerful pathos card pulled from a deck stacked against our country’s long-standing mistrust of anything that smacks of Soviet control and communism. They continue building their case, citing Trump’s multiple verbal offenses, by directly quoting his references to reporters as “pathetic,” “a pile of garbage,” and “very dishonest” in an attempt to show us just how far Trump is willing to take this war against the press.
However, other than the article following a format of general deductive reasoning, they keep their use of logos somewhat restricted to the following history lesson, a reminder as to why journalists must be unrestricted in their reporting. Long before Trump, they lecture, presidents have traditionally been peeved with the press, mainly because “honest reporting holds leaders and institutions accountable; that’s why a free press was singled out for protection in the 1st Amendment and why outspoken, unfettered journalism is considered a hallmark of a free country.” As a firm supporter in this fundamental freedom of our democracy, it allows me, and I dare say, a vast majority of their readership, to once again align with our authors – and I keep reading.
As one would expect in an editorial, the piece is riddled with emotionally charged verbiage aimed at stirring up feelings through word choice and tone. Writers, to effect, use their words as weapons. Armed with the power of on-the-record facts, and a journalist’s command of the English language, our authors suggest some not-so-subtle issues with our not-so-subtle President. In short order, our besieged journalists launch their own offensive, describing Trump by using terms typically reserved for despotic rulers of third world countries – terms such as “demagogic and potentially dangerous.” (As an aside, there was one descriptive, the use of which I found oddly sophomoric – a term a 16-year-old might use to describe a fellow student they didn’t like – as in creepy. “It’s a cynical strategy, with some creepy overtones,” the authors contend. I do not doubt that every word was chosen with the utmost care and consideration, and perhaps, the immature connotation is exactly what they intended. I found it...interesting.) On a more expected note, the Editorial Board takes their 1st Amendment rights seriously, and uses it liberally as they verbally alienate and diminish Trump’s presidential presence with the following phrases: “In Donald Trump’s America,” “Trump’s version of reality,” “not the first president to whine,” and, the classic, “Trump being Trump,” as if simply stating his name is enough to conjure all means of negative connotation; their work is done. The true power of this pathos-laden piece comes in the last two paragraphs where they sum up the “us” versus “them” theme of the article. Here our authors pull out the big guns with an appeal to fear. “Given the very real dangers posed by this administration…[we] shouldn’t let his bullying attitude persuade us,” they warn. Placing these ideas of fear adjacent to the author’s lauding of the virtues of the mainstream media, creates a greater contrast between the two in our minds and emotions. They conclude their argument with strong emotional language, practically setting themselves up as journalistic heroes who “must be courageous in our reporting and resolute in our pursuit of the truth.” Ending the article in this manner ties all their efforts into one last emotional appeal, and reaches out to the part of us that also wants to be seen as brave in pursuing the truth: binding ethos and logos into one neat bundle of courage.
The LA Times Editorial Board thinks President Donald Trump is waging war on journalism, and builds an argument to prove their stance using all the tools of rhetoric at their disposal: the ethos of self-reflection, the logos of logical progression of reasonable evidence, and a multitude of colorful and carefully chosen, emotion-laden phrases full of pathos. And even though I am aware of the logical fallacies sprinkled among the Board’s arguments (poisoning the well, appeal to tradition, and guilt by association), I, nonetheless, find their overall reasoning sound in support of their thesis. I also found the cerebrally stimulating assignment of analysis surprisingly satisfying, and it was more than enough to keep me writing.
LA Times Editorial Board. “Trump’s War on Journalism.” Los Angeles Times, April 5, 2017, www.latimes.com/projects/la-ed-trumps-war-on-journalism/.
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