Terry Manning

It’s time we stop glorifying bullies


Even the best movies about print journalism are prone to a dramatic cliché that rarely happens in the real world.

You’ve probably seen it. The ace reporter runs into the office of a seen-it-all senior editor with a breaking news item that absolutely has to go onto the front page of the next edition. The editor relents and tries to call the pressroom; no one picks up. The reporter runs screaming from the newsroom and begins a journey into the belly of the newspaper building.

Heavy, ink-stained doors fly open and the reporter shouts, “Stop the press!” Miraculously, the pressmen hear the reporter over the din of the machinery and bring the press to a grinding halt, not unlike the slow deceleration of a locomotive brought to a standstill.

It looks impressive. Hardly ever happens. A late press causes late deliveries, which cause phone calls to the front desk threatening to cancel subscriptions: “You used to be a good paper, but now you’re barely worth using as fish wrap!”

On one of only two occasions I had to stop the press in my 20 years in journalism, I was met by Bert and Ernie (not their real names) in the pressroom at my newspaper in the Florida Panhandle.

“Stop the press? For what?” Bert growled. Ernie stood silently.

I explained there was a factual error that needed to be fixed before the standard corrections made between the early and later editions.

“You gotta be kidding me!” Bert grumbled. Ernie’s eyes flitted nervously between my face and Bert’s.

“I wish I was,” I said, “but this is a mandatory stop.”

Bert scoffed, threw some proof copies into the air, and proceeded to express his opinion on how the situation compared to the output of the bovine digestion system.

As Bert stormed out, Ernie’s expression changed into pie-eyed admiration. “I like Bert,” he beamed. “He don’t give a (expletive).”

That was 20 years ago, but it’s stuck with me. Ernie knew I was right and Bert was wrong, but he admired Bert for being a bad actor, for what the old folks would call showing out. Ernie never would have dared to act like that himself, but he admired Bert for doing so.

I think about that sometimes when I consider people who continue to support the former president and his never-ending assault on common decency and American democracy.

They know he is lying, and they know he only wants to stay in power to avoid legal accountability for his treasonous actions. They would never act like that — we should hope — but they admire his audacity, his bad actions and the terrible things he says. Like Ernie, they admire that “he don’t give a (expletive).”

And it’s not just his base. I have written before about my distaste for journalists who deliver below the standards of their responsibility to report contemporaneously on his personal misdeeds and the goings-on in his administration. In many cases they save the most scandalous tidbits they learn on their White House beat for books to be written after the damage has been done.

The latest example is Maggie Haberman’s new book, “Confidence Man: The Making of Donald Trump and the Breaking of America.” I don’t know if the New York Times reporter wrote the title for her book, but whoever did promises content showing Haberman knew exactly what the stakes were.

An excerpt on The Daily Beast website includes a moment from debate preparation where the former president prefaced answering a mock question about bathroom access by asking whether the transgendered person in question still had a penis. He used much coarser language, of course, and Haberman includes the requisite stunned reactions of the people in attendance.

She also includes recollections of his use of derogatory terms to refer to homosexual men and men he considered “weak.” He bragged about paying these men less than others, an obvious violation of labor law. But hey, who cares about daily journalism when a book deal can be negotiated?

Racist. Sexist. A liar. A crook. So many people knew how bad a person he was, and when few of them spoke up a nation of Ernies voted him into power.

Now we’re all stuck with this Grouch.

Terry E. Manning is a Clemson graduate and worked for 20 years as a journalist. He can be reached at teemanning@gmail.com.

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