No doubt you've heard about the CNN-hosted Trump "town hall" (in a "town" that only includes Republicans and Republican-leaners, naturally). You know, the one where CNN set the ground rule that only applause, but not booing, was permitted?
Many people argue that Trump, given his egregious lies, should not be given this sort of prime media platform. And a common defense to that charge is that it's better to give Trump a platform and subject him to "tough questions" than it is to let him roam the earth unchallenged. Isn't that what journalism is? Here's CNN chairman Chris Licht, for example:
“I absolutely, unequivocally believe America was served very well by what we did last night,” Mr. Licht added. “People woke up, and they know what the stakes are in this election in a way that they didn’t the day before. And if someone was going to ask tough questions and have that messy conversation, it damn well should be on CNN.”
As it happens, I was perusing my archives the other day and came across this oldie shot/chaser, involving Jerusalem Post editor Jacob Katz defending his decision to host Sebastian Gorka at a conference while Gorka was under a cloud of controversy for his ties to neo-Nazis. Here's the shot:
[Katz said that] "We decided that ... he would be interviewed by me on stage while knowing that I will confront him with tough questions, including about the various allegations that have been reported in the press."
And here's the chaser:
Sitting on stage in an interview setting, Gorka was not pressed by Jerusalem Post editor Jacob Katz to provide any substantive explanation of his involvement with Vitezi Rend order in Hungary. Although he has denied being a formal member of the group, Gorka has repeatedly expressed support for the far right wing organization that the U.S. government says was under the control of the Nazis during World War II.
Katz allowed him to change the subject to his preferred topic of the threat of radical Islam.
This is the thing. It's one thing to defend platforming bigots and liars by saying "when these people are in the public eye, it's our job as journalists to ask the tough questions and hold their feet to the fire." But then you actually have to, you know, do it. What we seem to get more often is the conceptual promise of "asking tough questions" used to defend an actual practice of creampuffing.