New York Times Executive Editor Dean Baquet and Washington Post Executive Editor Marty Baron joined Chuck Todd on Sunday's edition of "Meet the Press" to discuss how to separate the truth from fiction in the era of "fake news," social media, and disinformation campaigns.
Baquet said it is "ridiculous to say" that "the truth isn't the truth" and it is the job of a journalist to "very aggressively sort out fact from fiction and to very aggressively work to make sure that people trust us and understand that that's our job."
"We live in an environment where people are able to spread crazy conspiracy theories and absolute falsehoods and lies," Baron said. "And that's made possible by the internet and social media. And people are drawn to sources of information, so-called information, that confirms their preexisting points of view. And you know, that's what's contributing to this environment that we have today."
"I'm not convinced that people want to be lied to," Baquet added. "I think people want to be comforted. And I think bad politicians sometimes say comforting things to them. And our job is to jump into the breach and to jump into those conversations, to do the deep reporting, to say, 'Look, I'm sorry. What I have to say may be uncomfortable. But that thing you just heard that made you feel good is a lie.'"
"I don't want to be dismissive of people who support the president," Baron said about a poll showing Trump supporters trust the president more than they trust the media. "I think they're owed our respect, and they certainly have mine. But you know, they’ve, they feel that the so-called elites in Washington have not paid attention to them, that they don't understand their lives. They don't understand their concerns, that they -- and they're not being heard. And they feel that the president is actually listening to them and addressing their concerns, and so they tend to believe him. And they're deeply suspicious of so-called elites, like us, at least people who are described as elites. And, and so they turn to him."
"My family teases me that I'm now considered one of the great leaders of the elite," Baquet added. "I do think, however, that we have to do a much better job, I agree with what Marty said, understanding some of the forces that drive people in parts of America that maybe are not as powerful in New York or Los Angeles. We have to do a better job covering religion. We have to do a better job understanding why some people support Donald Trump. I agree with Marty. We can't dismiss everybody who supports Donald Trump.
Transcript, via NBC News:
CHUCK TODD: Dean, let me start with this. This is what your chief White House correspondent, Peter Baker, wrote very recently. "There are days in Washington lately, when it feels like the truth itself is on trial." Well, help us make sense of, of that.
DEAN BAQUET: I mean, it's true. Of course, it's ridiculous to say that, that truth isn't truth. Of course, that's a ridiculous construct. I mean, our job, and it's a hard job, but our job, and I think our newsrooms have been sort of rebuilt to do this, is to very aggressively sort out fact from fiction and to very aggressively work to make sure that people trust us and understand that that's our job. I mean, Marty has a, has a very extensive fact-checking operation, as do we.
CHUCK TODD: Yes, he does.
DEAN BAQUET: And those things didn't exist three or four years ago. And they're an acknowledgment that one of the jobs of the news media is to sort through all of the BS, if I can say that -- and come to some, and come -- do the kind of deep reporting that we all grew up doing, to come to some sort of understanding of what's actually happening in the world. And I think that's one of our largest new jobs.
CHUCK TODD: Marty, you actually tweeted a quote from a column with a question that I actually think crystallizes the challenge. And you did this tweet about a year ago. And the column said this: "How do you address beliefs, when they're not rooted in reality? How do you tell someone, 'I'm trying to treat your fears seriously. But your facts don't exist?' How, as individuals, and how, as a country?" Like, this is a challenge. Like, this reminded me of Sharia law, right? There would be all these, "Sharia law's coming." And you're like, "It's not." And you would try to reassure -- there's nothing like that. And yet, you're like, "There's no facts here to support it."
MARTY BARON: Well, look. We live in an environment where people are able to spread crazy conspiracy theories and absolute falsehoods and lies. And that's made possible by the internet and social, social media. And people are drawn to sources of information, so-called information, that confirms their preexisting points of view. And you know, that's what's contributing to this environment that we have today.
CHUCK TODD: You -- Dean pointed this out about the increasing in fact checking that both of you, as news organizations, we've been doing more of it, but you've chronicled over 15,000 false or misleading claims just by the president. Why do you believe that's important? And are you concerned, at some point, at 15,000, aren't people numb to it?
MARTY BARON: Well, they might be numb to it. And that's concerning. But we still have the responsibility for, for determining what's, what’s true and what's false and, in particular, holding our government officials accountable for what they say and telling people whether they're telling the truth, or they're not telling the truth. That's fundamental to the responsibilities that we have as a journalistic institution.
CHUCK TODD: All right, but here's a challenge for both of you, Marty first, to you, and then Dean. I want to put up this poll number. When, when folks were asked, in a CBS poll, where do they go for trusted information, among Trump supporters, they cited the president himself. 91% of Trump supporters said he, he’s -- that's where they go for accurate information, fact checks be damned here.
MARTY BARON: Well, that's true. And I think that's the way the president would like to have it. He has described us as the opposition party. That goes all the way back to the presidential campaign. He wants us to be perceived as the opposition party, and so that people will dismiss anything that we, anything that we have to say. He wants to disqualify the mainstream media as an arbiter of, as an arbiter of facts and of truth. And he wants to disqualify others. He wants to disqualify the courts. He wants to disqualify historians. He wants to disqualify scientists, any independent source of information.
CHUCK TODD: Dean, do we have to market the truth? And what I mean by this is, you know, he's out there a lot, essentially, delegitimizing our professions. We don't fight back like a candidate. We don't fight back like a campaign. Do we need to start campaigning, around the country, to say, "No, no, no. Here's how facts work. Here's, here’s what reporting is. Here's what journalists are. Oh, by the way, if I utter a fact on TV, on purpose, I get fired"?
DEAN BAQUET: You know, we -- journalists took for granted and believed that people believed everything we said. They believed that, if I, if I filed a story from Afghanistan, that we were there. They believed -- we believed that everybody thought we were in warzones. And we believed that people trusted us. And we went through generations of just assuming everybody believed us. What I think we're going to have to get very aggressive at is to be really transparent, to assume nothing, and to make sure people know where we are, how we do our work, to show our work more aggressively. That's a different muscle for us.
CHUCK TODD: Yes, it is.
DEAN BAQUET: To my mind, that's a, that’s a form of marketing our journalism. When, when, when the Post did their great project, I guess, last week, about the buildup to the war in Afghanistan and the lies, they put their documents online. They put them online, so that I could read them, readers could read them, and could see that it wasn't just three reporters or, I guess, in this case, one reporter, sitting in a room, making stuff up. The stuff was there. That is not something that we knew how to do ten years ago. We did the same thing when we broke the story of Trump's taxes a year ago. We show you the stuff. And I think that that's a form of marketing our journalism. I think that's a form, as well as what doing what we're doing now, which is to be out, for Marty and I and others to be out in the world, talking about what we do and very aggressively defending our institutions, defending the truth and defending our important role in democracy.
CHUCK TODD: Marty, you go out of your way -- I believe, you, anytime one of your journalists are namechecked publicly, in a demeaning way, you always publicly go out there and defend them. And it seems as if you don't want to miss anybody that that happens to. Why? Why is that important?
MARTY BARON: Well, I think we have a responsibility to stand up for our journalists when they're right. If we're wrong, we should acknowledge that as well. But when they're unfairly attacked, particularly when a very powerful individual, including the president, uses, frankly, vile language to describe our journalists, I think it's something that we have to, we have to fight against, and I want to do that.
CHUCK TODD: I want to read you guys a letter to the editor that we found in the Lexington Herald Leader. It was a fascinating attempt at trying to explain why some people support President Trump. Here's what he says. "Why do good people support Trump? It's because people have been trained, from childhood, to believe in fairytales. This set their minds up to accept things that make them feel good. The more fairytales and lies he tells, the better they feel. Show me a person who believes in Noah's Ark, and I will show you a Trump voter." Look, this gets at something, Dean, that my executive producer likes to say, is "Hey, voters want to be lied to, sometimes. They don't, they don’t always love being told hard truths."
DEAN BAQUET: You know, I'm not, I’m not quite sure I buy that. I mean, politicians, historically, have lied to people. I mean, I don't want to keep flogging Marty's terrific Afghanistan story, but that was about, that was about a generation of political leaders who lied in the most egregious way, which was to say, a war that was failing and leading to American deaths was actually succeeding. I don’t, I don’t -- I'm not convinced that people want to be lied to. I think people want to be comforted. And I think bad politicians sometimes say comforting things to them. And our job is to jump into the breach and to jump into those conversations, to do the deep reporting, to say, "Look, I'm sorry. What I have to say may be uncomfortable. But that thing you just heard that made you feel good is a lie." And I think that's our job.
CHUCK TODD: Coal jobs is what comes into my head. "Oh, we're going to bring coal jobs back." And you're like, "That's not going to happen," right, Marty?
MARTY BARON: Yeah. Look, I mean, I, I think we have to be careful. I don't want to be dismissive of people who support the president.
CHUCK TODD: Right.
MARTY BARON: I think they're owed our respect, and they certainly have mine. But you know, they’ve, they feel that the so-called elites in Washington have not paid attention to them, that they don't understand their lives. They don't understand their concerns, that they -- and they're not being heard. And they feel that the president is actually listening to them and addressing their concerns, and so they tend to believe him. And they're deeply suspicious of so-called elites, like us, at least people who are described as elites. And, and so they turn to him.
CHUCK TODD: You know, Dean, this is something, frankly, my late father was one of those folks. "Those New Yorkers, they think they're better than us. They -- " He was, he would say that every once in a while. Do you feel that, at the New York Times, because a lot of people don't listen to the New York Times reporting, simply because they say, "Well, you don't understand my life. So why should I believe what you report?" Do you think you have to culturally get the New York Times as in touch with Manhattan and Brooklyn as they are with Rolla, Missouri?
DEAN BAQUET: I will have to say, it's always odd for me to be called a member of the elite. I grew up in a poor neighborhood in New Orleans, Louisiana, and had never been outside of Louisiana or Mississippi until I was about 17 years old. So it’s -- whenever I go home, and my family teases me that I'm now considered one of the great leaders of the elite. I do think, however, that we have to do a much better job, I agree with what Marty said, understanding some of the forces that drive people in parts of America that maybe are not as powerful in New York or Los Angeles. We have to do a better job covering religion. We have to do a better job understanding why some people support Donald Trump. I agree with Marty. We can't dismiss everybody who supports Donald Trump. I think we have to get out in America much more than we do and talk to people and sort of figure out ways, other than the traditional diner story, where people just --
CHUCK TODD: Yes.
DEAN BAQUET: I think we need to go deeper, and I think both of our institutions --
CHUCK TODD: No more diner stories.
DEAN BAQUET: No more diners. I think both of our institutions have gotten better at this, just to stew in and let people talk. I, I often talk about religion. Because I grew up in a religious, a very religious family. And I think, look, people in New York and Los Angeles, the places I've lived in, not everybody, but, but people in the worlds we travel don't always see religion as the powerful force that it is. And I think we have to do a better job understanding that. I think we, I think we cannot dismiss everybody who supported Donald Trump. And everybody -- And we just cannot dismiss them. First off, that's not journalistically moral. It's journalistically moral to reach out, understand the world and to be read. That's our job.
CHUCK TODD: Marty, what's the correct frame, when we describe what our journalism is at these mainstream news organizations? Is it objective? Is it fair? You hear the word “balanced” thrown out there. What's the term you prefer? What do you think is the correct framing to describe what our journalism is, I guess, in these mainstream news organizations?
MARTY BARON: I think we should be fair. I think we should be open-minded when we approach any story. We should be listeners, more than talkers. And we should be willing to listen to everyone. And I also think that we need to be fair to the public, which means that, when we've done our reporting, when we've done our jobs, when we've been thorough, then we need to tell people what we've actually found. We can't disguise it. We can't muddy it up. We can’t -- you know, we need to be direct and straightforward and tell people what we've actually learned. And so I believe in being fair in the sense of being open-minded, going into a story, but being fair with the public at the end, once we've done our jobs, telling them what we've found.
CHUCK TODD: The phrase I like to use these days is simply -- Go ahead.
DEAN BAQUET: I’ll add -- I was going to add my two. I agree with all those, of course. But empathetic, I think great journalists are empathetic, which means they listen, and they try to understand. That's not pandering. And then, I think the most-powerful word, for me, is independent, independent, which means independent of everybody, by the way, except, except our principles and our readers.