The Independent’s chief political commentator, John Rentoul, has said the New York Times’ use of the word “lie” in news reports about Donald Trump was an “abdication of responsibility to journalism”.
The NYT published an opinion piece that describes the US President as “a proven liar” who “lies often and effortlessly” and used the headline: “Trump Repeats Lie About Popular Vote in Meeting With Lawmakers” in a an earlier report.
Speaking at an event on Truth, trust and the news media, organised by the London Press Club in partnership with the London School of Economics and media think tank Polis, Rentoul said: “One person’s alternative fact is another person’s lie.
“The question is how do we deal with this and I’m very much on the side of disagreeing with the New York Times use of the word ‘lie’ in the headline. I thought that was a complete abdication of responsibility to journalism because once you accuse someone of lies you have lost the argument, because in order to do that you have to question motives.
“You must be saying that they know that they are telling something untrue and the problem with someone like Donald Trump is that anyone who claims to be able to read his mind isn’t making a claim that is based in fact.”
Rentoul also revealed that the Independent, which published its final print edition in March last year, was reporting more on Trump as an online-only title than it would have as a newspaper due to the fact that “half of our audience is now American”. He said of the new audience demographic: “it certainly has changed our journalism”.
Rentoul was speaking as part of a panel of journalists at the event this week, which included Anne McElvoy of the Economist.
Asked if the American media needed to be more aggressive in their approach to Trump, McElvoy said: “I don’t know how much just treating it with aggression is going to do any good. Who are you enlightening that you haven’t already enlightened? Who are you reaching that you haven’t reached before?”
Rentoul added: “What seems to be happening now, as the media moves increasingly online, is that the partisan style of media has spread to America. I think that’s probably going to now be the default media style.
“Online media in Britain is strongly partisan. The Independent was founded as a centrist paper but is very clearly now on the liberal left of the spectrum and has become possibly more so now online because that’s the way our readers are driving us.
“The press is writing the things they are because that’s what gets the clicks.”
Speaking via video link at the same event, CNN broadcaster Brian Stelter warned there is a broad effort to “delegitimise” the media in the United Statesby calling the media “dishonest”, adding: “That is a danger to journalism that has not been seen in a long time.”