In post on Donald Trump’s not-so-veiled threats to spill the beans about Heidi Cruz, Callum Borchers of the Washington Post noted:
“That’s the dilemma for the press. In any previous election, if the Republican presidential front-runner had threatened a rival’s spouse, journalists wouldn’t have had to think twice about covering the incident. They would have known that highlighting such crass behavior would force the candidate to pay an appropriate price. They would have felt — quite rightly — that they were fulfilling an obligation to inform the electorate, which, being composed of sensible and decent people, would react with disgust.
But the electorate’s reactions are completely backward in this campaign. Trump insults Mexicans and his poll numbers (in the GOP primary, at least) go up. He calls for a ban on all Muslims entering the United States and his poll numbers go up. He says the military should torture terrorism suspects and murder their wives and children, and his poll numbers go up.
We know the pattern by now. Does that mean journalists’ obligation should change? Should we try to ignore Trump’s inflammatory rhetoric instead of reporting on it?
I don’t think so — not in most cases, anyway. As I’ve argued before, the duty of a free press is not to withhold information because journalists think voters will make wrong decisions with it. And Trump, by virtue of his position as the likely GOP nominee, is inherently newsworthy.”
Borchers’s conclusion seems likely right to me, but it seems worth considering more, and I’d like to hear other people’s thoughts. Is there ever a point at which a story should not be covered? What if a journalist believed a story might result in a riot? What if she believed it might redound to the credit of a demagogue? What if it might help keep/get someone as bad as an actual Hitler in power? What if it might humiliate or otherwise damage very good people without much compensatory good to be expected from it?
Of course a journalist should never lie. But can a journalist ever omit when he can reasonably predict the truth will cause far more harm than good? I’m guessing most of you will say “no.” So I want to know why not. And if you say yes, I want to know what the exceptions are.