Sarah Gassen: I am biased — for the free press

Sarah Gassen: I am biased — for the free press

Many, many moons ago I answered my office phone to find a riled-up woman on the other end of the line.

OK, that happens a lot.

She started in with the usual: You’re biased, you lie, you’re terrible. And the Star has a conspiracy to make the president look bad.

On that particular day, for some reason, her accusation struck me as funny. Absurd.

I laughed.

Have you ever met anyone who works in the Star newsroom? We couldn’t put together a conspiracy if we wanted to. We’re not that organized.

Not to throw my colleagues under the proverbial bus, but for being in the communications business, most newsroom inhabitants are not so hot at communicating with one another.

When word went out that the Boston Globe’s deputy editorial editor was proposing that newspaper editorial boards across the country write and publish editorials about the importance of America’s free press and President Trump’s description of journalists as the “enemy of the people” — and publish them on Aug. 16— I knew we, the Arizona Daily Star’s Editorial Board, had to participate.

I’m the Editorial Page editor, which are the pages where we publish opinion pieces — separate from the news, metro and sports pages. I’ve said this before, but it’s worth explaining again. And again, because it matters.

The editorial pages are where you’ll find guest opinion pieces written by local authors, opinion columns from national writers across the political spectrum, cartoons (yes, Fitz but also conservatives Lisa Benson and Mike Lester of the Washington Post). We run an opinion column from a local conservative writer most Sundays.

We publish almost every letter to the editor online at Tucson.com, and many of them in the Star’s print edition.

And yet.

I wasn’t surprised by the negative response to our editorial, or the overall effort of journalists to speak up for the free press and First Amendment.

We printed a full page of letters about the editorial on Friday, and will publish more as they come in.

In phone calls, emails, Facebook posts and letters, readers accused the Star, and journalists in general, of an impressive array of wrongdoing: lying, hiding Trump’s accomplishments, taking bribes, more lying, fake news, working for Hillary and more.

(I refer to them as “readers” because I’m assuming people who took the time to blast us also took the time to read the editorial — otherwise, what’s the point? And who has that kind of free time?)

I, and others on social media, asked for examples, for something more concrete than generic accusations.

More than one response accused the press, specifically the Star, of only printing “negative” stories about Trump.

This raises the question: If a journalist reports what the president has said, done or tweeted, how is that “negative”? Is pointing out, accurately, demonstrably, that what the president said is not true, “negative”?

The editorial published Thursday wasn’t the first time we’ve written about Trump’s assault on the press in editorials or in individual opinion columns.

The difference, this time, is we added our voice to a chorus.

I find it ironic that Trump bashes CNN, in particular, because I think all the free airtime and constant coverage cable channels gave Trump as a candidate helped him immensely.

If you’re satisfied listening only to one man’s tweets and swallowing everything he and his spokespeople say as the truth, go ahead.

That’s not enough for me.

I guess that does make me biased:

I am biased for the full story and the free press.

Sarah Garrecht Gassen is the Editorial Page editor of the Arizona Daily Star. Email her at sgassen@tucson.com and follow her on Facebook.

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