Jonathan Karl Fails

In Jonathan Karl’s recent book, Front Row at The Trump Show, the ABC news White House correspondent has a public service announcement for his fellow White House colleagues to heed, and for the rest of the mainstream media to follow.   Karl writes, “The surest way to undermine the credibility of the White House press corps is to behave like the political opposition.  Report the facts.  Investigate.  Ask the hard questions.  Don’t give speeches from the White House briefing room.” Karl also notes that, “The key to a good interview is to listen... you shouldn't even notice the interviewer is there.” While Karl offers poignant advice, his words ring hollow.  Anyone who has witnessed the actions of Karl’s fellow White House reporters, and the media who have covered the Trump Administration over the last several years, can attest that few, if any of his colleagues seem to have received the memo.

Karl’s 368-page book does acknowledge that the White House press corps has room for improvement.  Yet aside from weathering a couple of snipes at the verbose, generally arrogant, and irascible nuisance that is CNN’s Jim Acosta, he mostly steers clear of any serious self-reflection, or critiques of his colleagues, and those in the mainstream media.  Instead, Karl reserves his harshest criticisms for President Donald Trump. “The president himself has waged a sustained campaign to make people think the truth is a lie whenever he doesn’t like the truth or it makes him look bad.  This isn’t the dodging and weaving you expect to see from politicians, including presidents.  This is an assault on truth itself... I fear President Trump’s war on truth may do lasting damage to American democracy,” he writes.

Karl first became acquainted with Trump in August, 1994 when he was a 26-year old tabloid writer for the New York Post, covering what he described as “the tabloid story of the decade.”  Michael Jackson, the king of pop, had recently married Lisa Marie Presley, the daughter of the king of rock'n'roll.  Gossip columnists were hoping to catch a glimpse or snap a photo of the newlyweds who were hiding out in the middle of Manhattan at Trump Tower.  While Karl was unable to secure a photo of the star-studded duo, he did receive a private tour of the Trump Tower (from the basement to the penthouse), by Trump himself, including a photo with the future president, and a picture of the newlyweds’ getaway vehicle.  Trump provided Karl with more than enough material for his juicy front-page gossip column, entitled “Inside Michael’s Honeymoon Hideaway.”

While Trump and his brand certainly benefited from the free media exposure, Karl’s major revelation from that experience to the surprise of exactly no one is that, “Donald Trump the president is remarkably like Donald Trump the real estate developer.”  To this day, Karl seems fixated on his other revelation during the 1994 interview, in which he discovered that the Trump Tower is listed as having 68 floors, when in reality it only has 58 floors.  This was accomplished by Trump calling the floor above the 5th floor, the 14th floor.  So the former real estate conglomerate, and reality tv star, who has mastered the art of self-promotion, is also an exaggerator.  Who knew he had so much in common with P.T. Barnum?

Karl, in a twisted Sherlock Holmes type of way, seems to think that if Trump is dishonest about the number of floors in the Trump Tower, then there must be other dark secrets that the commander-in-chief is concealing from the public's view.  Thus, Karl believes it is the job of the press to connect the dots and inform the naive public of Trump’s supposed misdeeds.  As Karl writes, “Our democracy is built on trust.  We distrust politicians, but we trust our ability to vote them out of office.  We doubt the ethics of our leaders, but we trust our system of checks and balances and the press to hold them accountable.”

While Karl correctly points out that it is the job of the press to do a little digging, and question the validity of what our leaders tell them, it is certainly not in their job description to embark on a fishing expedition full of salacious and uncorroborated material, that they report as the truth, which MSNBC’S Rachael Maddow and many others reporters did for over two years, before the full findings of the Mueller Investigation were released.  It is not the media's job to root for a cause to be true, or to continue to lie, manipulate, and mislead the public about the false pretenses that led to the Mueller investigation.  It is also not their job to refuse to acknowledge that the Mueller Report did in fact exonerate the president of the exact crime that Maddow and her cronies had accused the president of committing.  No matter, they simply moved on to the next anti-Trump crusade.

Instead of criticizing Maddow for her journalistic malfeasance, Karl writes glowingly of her. “Rachel Maddow regularly does genuinely news-making [sic] enterprise reporting on her MSNBC show,” he says.  Certainly, one would think Karl could at least understand why Trump refers to some in the press as “Fake News.”  Instead, Karl leaves us with allegorical soliloquous about the president, “Survey the political landscape, and you might, just think the lesson of the Trump era is that you can deny inconvenient facts, slander those who disagree with you, renounce civility, and get away with it and win.”  It often appears that Karl accuses Trump of doing exactly what the media themselves are guilty of doing.  In fact, if Karl wants to discuss presidents who had a devious streak, one need not look any further than Obama who often said one thing in public, and did the exact opposite in private through his deceptive policies.

Karl also curiously took issue with the part of Trump’s inauguration speech, in which he said, “For too long, a small group in our nation’s capital has reaped the rewards of the government while the people have borne the cost.” Evidently, appealing to the 63 million Americans who elected him, and not to politicians, and bureaucrats, was deeply troubling for Karl.  “Those words were pitch perfect to millions of Trump supporters around the country who believed both parties had failed them.  But those words were also a direct affront to the human beings on that inaugural platform -- the congressional leaders, former presidents, and former vice presidents seated right there with him.” Karl seems unaware that the president works for the American people and not for career bureaucrats.  If Joe Biden, (who looks more frail by the day) somehow manages to leave his basement and defeat Trump in November, one wonders what sort of pleasantries he will toss towards the 45th president during his inauguration speech.

Of all of Karl’s claims, perhaps none is more bizarre than his contention that newspapers are no longer partisan. “The Bill of Rights enshrined freedom of the press but did so at a time when newspapers were partisan and, for the most part, didn’t give a damn about fairness or objectivity,” he writes.  After Joe Biden announced Kamala Harris as his Vice Presidential pick on August 11th, 2020, one could be forgiven for thinking Biden’s press secretary was hired to write the headlines for the August 12th, 2020 editions of the New York Times, and the Washington Post.

Here were some of the Times headlines: "Harris Joins Biden Ticket, Achieving A First; Political Warrior Shaped By Life In 2 Worlds;" "Pick Seen As Safe But Energizing;" "Woman of Color In No. 2 Slot Of Major Party."  The Washington Post was only slightly less objective: "Kamala Harris Met the Most Important Qualification For Biden’s Running Mate;" "Kamala Harris Was the Safest Most Experienced and Most Tested Choice Biden Could Make;" "Why Kamala Harris Has Conservatives So Angry;" Evidently, Karl does not believe that two of the largest newspapers in the country are partisan.

While Karl may be one of the few political reporters left who still has a thorough understanding of what the job of a White House reporter entails, he is the last of a dying breed.  “As a reporter for a major news organization assigned to cover the White House, I don’t believe I should act like an opinion journalist.  There is a central role for journalism that strives to be objective, fair, and unbiased.  As a White House correspondent, if I come across like a political opponent to the president, I have failed,” he writes.  Unfortunately, many of his colleagues either do not share that vision or are unable to separate their political convictions from doing their job.

Image: Dutton

In Jonathan Karl’s recent book, Front Row at The Trump Show, the ABC news White House correspondent has a public service announcement for his fellow White House colleagues to heed, and for the rest of the mainstream media to follow.   Karl writes, “The surest way to undermine the credibility of the White House press corps is to behave like the political opposition.  Report the facts.  Investigate.  Ask the hard questions.  Don’t give speeches from the White House briefing room.” Karl also notes that, “The key to a good interview is to listen... you shouldn't even notice the interviewer is there.” While Karl offers poignant advice, his words ring hollow.  Anyone who has witnessed the actions of Karl’s fellow White House reporters, and the media who have covered the Trump Administration over the last several years, can attest that few, if any of his colleagues seem to have received the memo.

Karl’s 368-page book does acknowledge that the White House press corps has room for improvement.  Yet aside from weathering a couple of snipes at the verbose, generally arrogant, and irascible nuisance that is CNN’s Jim Acosta, he mostly steers clear of any serious self-reflection, or critiques of his colleagues, and those in the mainstream media.  Instead, Karl reserves his harshest criticisms for President Donald Trump. “The president himself has waged a sustained campaign to make people think the truth is a lie whenever he doesn’t like the truth or it makes him look bad.  This isn’t the dodging and weaving you expect to see from politicians, including presidents.  This is an assault on truth itself... I fear President Trump’s war on truth may do lasting damage to American democracy,” he writes.

Karl first became acquainted with Trump in August, 1994 when he was a 26-year old tabloid writer for the New York Post, covering what he described as “the tabloid story of the decade.”  Michael Jackson, the king of pop, had recently married Lisa Marie Presley, the daughter of the king of rock'n'roll.  Gossip columnists were hoping to catch a glimpse or snap a photo of the newlyweds who were hiding out in the middle of Manhattan at Trump Tower.  While Karl was unable to secure a photo of the star-studded duo, he did receive a private tour of the Trump Tower (from the basement to the penthouse), by Trump himself, including a photo with the future president, and a picture of the newlyweds’ getaway vehicle.  Trump provided Karl with more than enough material for his juicy front-page gossip column, entitled “Inside Michael’s Honeymoon Hideaway.”

While Trump and his brand certainly benefited from the free media exposure, Karl’s major revelation from that experience to the surprise of exactly no one is that, “Donald Trump the president is remarkably like Donald Trump the real estate developer.”  To this day, Karl seems fixated on his other revelation during the 1994 interview, in which he discovered that the Trump Tower is listed as having 68 floors, when in reality it only has 58 floors.  This was accomplished by Trump calling the floor above the 5th floor, the 14th floor.  So the former real estate conglomerate, and reality tv star, who has mastered the art of self-promotion, is also an exaggerator.  Who knew he had so much in common with P.T. Barnum?

Karl, in a twisted Sherlock Holmes type of way, seems to think that if Trump is dishonest about the number of floors in the Trump Tower, then there must be other dark secrets that the commander-in-chief is concealing from the public's view.  Thus, Karl believes it is the job of the press to connect the dots and inform the naive public of Trump’s supposed misdeeds.  As Karl writes, “Our democracy is built on trust.  We distrust politicians, but we trust our ability to vote them out of office.  We doubt the ethics of our leaders, but we trust our system of checks and balances and the press to hold them accountable.”

While Karl correctly points out that it is the job of the press to do a little digging, and question the validity of what our leaders tell them, it is certainly not in their job description to embark on a fishing expedition full of salacious and uncorroborated material, that they report as the truth, which MSNBC’S Rachael Maddow and many others reporters did for over two years, before the full findings of the Mueller Investigation were released.  It is not the media's job to root for a cause to be true, or to continue to lie, manipulate, and mislead the public about the false pretenses that led to the Mueller investigation.  It is also not their job to refuse to acknowledge that the Mueller Report did in fact exonerate the president of the exact crime that Maddow and her cronies had accused the president of committing.  No matter, they simply moved on to the next anti-Trump crusade.

Instead of criticizing Maddow for her journalistic malfeasance, Karl writes glowingly of her. “Rachel Maddow regularly does genuinely news-making [sic] enterprise reporting on her MSNBC show,” he says.  Certainly, one would think Karl could at least understand why Trump refers to some in the press as “Fake News.”  Instead, Karl leaves us with allegorical soliloquous about the president, “Survey the political landscape, and you might, just think the lesson of the Trump era is that you can deny inconvenient facts, slander those who disagree with you, renounce civility, and get away with it and win.”  It often appears that Karl accuses Trump of doing exactly what the media themselves are guilty of doing.  In fact, if Karl wants to discuss presidents who had a devious streak, one need not look any further than Obama who often said one thing in public, and did the exact opposite in private through his deceptive policies.

Karl also curiously took issue with the part of Trump’s inauguration speech, in which he said, “For too long, a small group in our nation’s capital has reaped the rewards of the government while the people have borne the cost.” Evidently, appealing to the 63 million Americans who elected him, and not to politicians, and bureaucrats, was deeply troubling for Karl.  “Those words were pitch perfect to millions of Trump supporters around the country who believed both parties had failed them.  But those words were also a direct affront to the human beings on that inaugural platform -- the congressional leaders, former presidents, and former vice presidents seated right there with him.” Karl seems unaware that the president works for the American people and not for career bureaucrats.  If Joe Biden, (who looks more frail by the day) somehow manages to leave his basement and defeat Trump in November, one wonders what sort of pleasantries he will toss towards the 45th president during his inauguration speech.

Of all of Karl’s claims, perhaps none is more bizarre than his contention that newspapers are no longer partisan. “The Bill of Rights enshrined freedom of the press but did so at a time when newspapers were partisan and, for the most part, didn’t give a damn about fairness or objectivity,” he writes.  After Joe Biden announced Kamala Harris as his Vice Presidential pick on August 11th, 2020, one could be forgiven for thinking Biden’s press secretary was hired to write the headlines for the August 12th, 2020 editions of the New York Times, and the Washington Post.

Here were some of the Times headlines: "Harris Joins Biden Ticket, Achieving A First; Political Warrior Shaped By Life In 2 Worlds;" "Pick Seen As Safe But Energizing;" "Woman of Color In No. 2 Slot Of Major Party."  The Washington Post was only slightly less objective: "Kamala Harris Met the Most Important Qualification For Biden’s Running Mate;" "Kamala Harris Was the Safest Most Experienced and Most Tested Choice Biden Could Make;" "Why Kamala Harris Has Conservatives So Angry;" Evidently, Karl does not believe that two of the largest newspapers in the country are partisan.

While Karl may be one of the few political reporters left who still has a thorough understanding of what the job of a White House reporter entails, he is the last of a dying breed.  “As a reporter for a major news organization assigned to cover the White House, I don’t believe I should act like an opinion journalist.  There is a central role for journalism that strives to be objective, fair, and unbiased.  As a White House correspondent, if I come across like a political opponent to the president, I have failed,” he writes.  Unfortunately, many of his colleagues either do not share that vision or are unable to separate their political convictions from doing their job.

Image: Dutton