I downloaded Martin Baron’s book, “Collision of Power: Trump, Bezos, and The Washington Post,” on the first day that it became available. I expect it’s going to take me a while to read it, but I plan to review it once I’ve made my way through its 576 pages. The Post under Bezos and Baron comprise the longest section of my 2018 book, “The Return of the Moguls,” although — since it ends with Donald Trump’s Electoral College victory — I did not cover how the Post navigated the Trump presidency.
Based on what others are writing, and on interviews that Baron is giving during the early days of his book tour, it sounds like journalistic objectivity is a major theme of “Collision of Power.” Baron has written and talked about this before, as he did in an address this past spring at Brandeis University. And what his critics don’t give him enough credit for is that he subscribes to the proper view of objectivity defined by Walter Lippmann more than a century ago.
In Baron’s view, like Lippmann’s, objectivity is the fair-minded pursuit of the truth, not both-sides-ism, not quoting a variety of views and leaving it up to the poor reader or viewer or listener to figure it out. For instance, here’s Baron’s answer when he was asked by CNN media reporter Oliver Darcy about how good a job the press is doing in its coverage of the Republican Party’s meltdown into lunacy and authoritarianism:
I think the coverage of the latest chaos has been very good, based on what I’ve read. It portrays the Republican Party as Chaos Central, which it is. The party is proving to be ungovernable, and that is wreaking havoc on the country as a whole. The bigger issue is Trump. I’d like to see substantially more coverage of what a second Trump administration would do upon taking office. Who would be put in cabinet posts? Who would be put in charge of regulatory agencies?
No doubt Trump would embark on an immediate campaign of vengeance. Plans are already in the works. What would that mean for the FBI, DOJ, the courts, the press — really for all the institutional pillars of our democracy? Some stories have been produced, though not enough in my view. Those sorts of stories would serve the public better than yet-another interview with Trump himself. Look, the party that now levels evidence-free charges of “weaponization” of government openly boasts of how it would weaponize government against its perceived enemies.
I don’t want to copy and paste all of Darcy’s interview, so I’ll leave it at that. But do yourself a favor and read the whole thing. Baron touches on several other important topics, including Fox News, artificial intelligence and X/Twitter, and he’s got smart things to say about all of them.
Meanwhile, here’s a surprise: The Washington Post has published a long feature by former Post reporter Wesley Lowery on the oldest living survivor of the Tulsa Massacre, 109-year-old Viola Fletcher. Lowery, who’s now based at American University, left the Post in 2020 after he and Baron clashed over Lowery’s provocative tweets. It never should have come to that; Lowery, a gifted journalist, was essential for his coverage of the first Black Lives Matter movement and helped the Post win a Pulitzer Prize for its data journalism project tracking police shootings of civilians. My media ethics students are reading Lowery’s new book, “American Whitelash,” this spring.