Previously published at WGBHNews.org.
So what are we to make of the Boston Globe’s parody of a possible Donald Trump presidency? Is it inspired or sophomoric? A responsible exercise of a newspaper’s role in shaping public opinion or self-indulgent clickbait? And does the form that it takes—the entire front of the Sunday Ideas section, designed to look like page one of the Globe—deceive readers and thus undermine public trust in the paper?
I’m posing these questions because as I write this on late Sunday afternoon, a day after the Globe’s anti-Trump package was unveiled, I’m still not sure what to make of it. Not to wimp out, but I think both the defenders and the detractors have good arguments.
Jim Roberts, formerly of the New York Times, recently laid off from his job as Mashable’s top editor, tweeted on Sunday, “Boston Globe front page brilliantly envisions a Trump presidency.” To which Politico media columnist Jack Shafer replied, “This is the first time you’ve ever been wrong, Jim.”
Now, take a look at Roberts’s wording. Because, in fact, he inadvertently puts his finger on one legitimate complaint about the parody—he refers to it as the Globe’s “front page.” It wasn’t, and folks who saw the Sunday edition in print understood that it was the front of the Ideas section, produced by the paper’s opinion operation. Yet not only was that distinction unclear as the story unfolded on social media Saturday, but the Globe itself did little to alleviate that lack of clarity.
The Globe’s official Twitter feed referred to the parody as “the front page we hope we never have to print.” (Sorry, but “Via @GlobeOpinion” is insufficient.) In a promotional video, Ideas editor Katie Kingsbury said, “We listened to Donald Trump’s speeches, we scoured his website, we read his position papers, we considered who his advisers are, and we did what the Globe does best: we reported it out and put it on the front page for our readers to see.”
One seemingly annoyed Globe news reporter, Todd Wallack, was moved to tweet, “The satirical @bostonglobe page about Trump is the cover of today’s Ideas/Opinion section (which is overseen by the editorial board).” He followed up with a photo of the actual front page, which was nearly Trump-free. And John Robinson, the retired editor of the News & Observer in Greensboro, North Carolina,told me he had to check “Today’s Front Pages” at the Newseum before he could be sure the parody wasn’t the real page one.
So yes, the folks at the Globe could have done a better job of making sure everyone realized the parody was part of the paper’s opinion section and not the front page of the paper. Not to be a party-pooper, but I would have insisted that the Ideas header appear in its usual location at the top of the page. That would have lessened the impact a bit, it also would have lessened the confusion.
As for the content itself, I’d say it is simultaneously inspired and a bit juvenile, which is unavoidable when you’re writing fake news stories based on Trump’s ridiculous and offensive pledges to deport 11 million undocumented immigrants, kill the families of ISIS terrorists, and rewrite libel laws in ways that contradict more than 50 years’ worth of First Amendment jurisprudence.
The page also includes gems like this: “Heavy spring snow closed Trump National Park for the first time since it dropped its loser name, Yellowstone, in January.” Comedic genius? Well, no. But I laughed.
The parody was accompanied by a serious editorial making the case that if Trump fails to win a majority of the delegates at the Republican National Convention this summer, then the delegates should turn to a respectable alternative like House Speaker Paul Ryan or former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney. And therein lies the most significant problem with the whole exercise.
Liberal media outlets (and a few conservative ones) have been outspoken about stopping Trump. The Daily News of New York has run a wide array of entertaining front pages. Late last year, the New Yorker’s Amy Davidson tried her hand at parody well in advance of the Globe with a piece titled “Five Supreme Court Cases from the Second Trump Administration.”
The trouble, of course, is that Republicans are not seeking advice from the likes of the Daily News, the New Yorker, or the Boston Globe in how to deal with their Trump problem. And, of course, many Republicans don’t think they have a Trump problem.
In the current media environment it can be almost impossible to be heard above the noise. So the Globe deserves some credit in finding a way to draw attention to its principled if oddly presented case against Trump’s racist demagoguery and rhetorical indulgence of violence, torture, and murder.
But now the crowd will move on, the stunt will soon be forgotten—and nothing will change.