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updated: 1/8/2018 6:54 AM

Editorial: Trump's furious response to tell-all book

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  • Donald Trump with Steve Bannon, right, during more collegial times.

    Donald Trump with Steve Bannon, right, during more collegial times.
    Associated Press

 

From a distance, it's hard to know how much credence to give Michael Wolff's explosive new book, Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House.

It's clear that Wolff had extraordinary access to the White House. At the same time, Paul Farhi of The Washington Post penned a provocative critique of Wolff's past work that should make anyone approach Fire and Fury with some degree of healthy skepticism.

Don't misunderstand the message of our ongoing series of Facts Matter editorials. Frankly, we're fans of healthy skepticism.

We believe citizenship in a democracy starts with critical thinking. It is healthy to have a diverse array of information sources and to use each to add to your perspective and understanding.

Our point isn't that the news media are sacrosanct. Nor to object to concrete and worthwhile criticism. We're all human and that means we all get things wrong.

But beware of the temptation to blindly accept one news source and blindly reject another; beware of the temptation to blindly embrace one perspective and blindly oppose another.

Skepticism is healthy. Cynicism is destructive.

This is a bedrock message we preach to our journalists. It is a message that applies to you too.

There are elements in Wolff's book we might question because they don't seem to add up -- the suggestion, for instance, that Donald Trump didn't know who John Boehner is, which seems a contradiction to past references Trump has made to Boehner.

But there are others elements, like Stephen Bannon's colorful "treasonous" dismissal of Donald Trump Jr. and Jared Kushner, that seem credible, not just because they sound like Bannon, but because Bannon has not disputed the accounts either.

Our primary objection to President Donald Trump's criticism of the news media is his tendency to level blanket condemnations that lack either specificity or substantiation.

Typical last week was press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders' refusal to point out errors in Wolff's book because she wasn't going to "waste ... the country's time." It would hardly be a waste of the country's time.

What is much more wasteful is the cynicism the Trump administration sows toward the institutions that are vital to the republic's health -- the self-serving campaigns to erode confidence in the news media, the courts, the FBI, the intelligence community, the "deep state" malarkey peddled only to undermine our system of checks and balances.

This is the stuff that autocrats do, not American presidents.

As to Fire and Fury, Trump's lawyers threaten pre-emptive legal action against Bannon and against Wolff. Bannon, they say, violated confidentiality agreements, as if Trump is a business, as if he is Oprah. We ask, why should there be confidentiality agreements?

Trump no longer is a business. He is the president.

And while necessary security secrets need to be protected, history and the country's well-being demand an accounting of his presidency.

Facts matter. Support a free press.

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