In his first visit to Penn State, Marty Baron had a short response to one White House chief strategist’s order for the media to keep its mouth shut.
Baron, the Pulitzer Prize-winning executive editor of the Washington Post, spoke to about 400 Penn State students and faculty at the Oweida Lecture in Journalism Ethics in the HUB-Robeson Center’s Freeman Auditorium Tuesday night.
In late January, White House Chief Strategist Stephen Bannon told the New York Times that the media is the “opposition party” and doesn’t understand the country.
Baron’s speech was largely a rebuttal to Bannon’s ideas.
The Washington Post, along with other major news outlets like The New York Times and CNN, has been mired in a battle with President Donald Trump and his administration over the role journalism should play in democracy.
“The founders of this country did not embrace a free press with the notion that it should shut up, or be shut down,” Baron said on Tuesday. “They imagined just the opposite, a press that would speak up, and in speaking up, would contribute to the self-governance of our republic.”
Baron has made many stops during his journalism career.
After starting out with the Miami Herald in 1976, he moved on the Los Angeles Times and The New York Times. After a brief return to the Miami Herald as an executive editor, Baron was appointed to the same role at the Boston Globe in 2001. There, he directed the newspaper’s “Spotlight” team, which uncovered a heavy pattern of child sex abuse in the Catholic Church.
While Baron disagreed with much of Bannon’s claims, he did mention some of the media’s shortcomings.
“I have become dismayed by how much the media today is all about talking, shouting actually when it comes to television, radio and some ideological-driven websites,” he said, later adding with a smile, “Anytime the White House chief strategist wants to talk, I’m happy to listen and have a meaningful conversation.”
While Baron said the Washington Post took Trump’s bid for the White House seriously from the start, it, along with other members of the press, failed to hear out those who ended up voting for him.
“The press failed to detect and explore the depth of anxiety and grievance in America,” Baron said.
Later in the evening, students were invited to ask questions toward the end of the event.
One student journalist asked for advice on how to avoid being accused of “fake news,” a term coined by Trump during his presidency.
To that, Baron had a short response similar to the one he gave at the top of his speech.
“We should just do our jobs.”
Mark Fischer is a Penn State journalism student.