SALT LAKE CITY — Deseret News journalist Jesse Hyde took the stage at Kingsbury Hall in Salt Lake City Saturday, said his piece and was greeted by a standing ovation from the TEDx crowd.
The value of journalism in today's confusing world.
"If the pursuit of truth is your ultimate goal, every fact matters," he told the crowd. But more on that in a minute.
Hyde's presentation was one of several in the tradition of TED Talks that feature "ideas worth spreading" from interesting people. Saturday's event featured talks on global health, the threat (and benefit) of technology, issues of identity and privacy, the historically strong role of women in Utah, even teeth and gums as sentinel for the health of one's body, among other topics.
Hyde's presentation came at an opportune time as the week began with published excerpts from journalist Bob Woodward's explosive book "Fear," which takes readers inside President Donald Trump's White House. The week continued with the New York Times' decision to run an anonymous guest opinion (called an op-ed) by an author identified only as "a senior official in the Trump administration."
What we learned is that not all journalists think alike and opinions on the week's revelations from journalists themselves were mixed.
Woodward, whose book will be released to the public on Tuesday, is known for tremendous shoe-leather reporting and is respected for going deep with sources to then draw what he hopes is an accurate portrayal of his subjects. In this case, the subject is the Trump White House and its players.
The publication of the anonymous op-ed was more controversial. Washington Post columnist Margaret Sullivan, who formally worked as the public editor of The New York Times, summed it up this way:
"Was the New York Times’s decision to publish a mystery op-ed piece describing an organized resistance inside the Trump administration 'gutless,' as the president has angrily deemed it? Or was it a crucial public service, as the Times’s top opinion editors see it?
"I’d call it neither," she said. "What it was, however, was a quagmire of weirdness: fraught with issues of journalistic ethics and possibly even legal concerns."
Only top editors at the Times know who the source is, a person admitting active resistance to some of the work of the president. But the reporters in their newsroom don't have that information and are now trying to uncover it. That is a quagmire.
Erik Wemple, The Washington Post's media critic, didn't hold back his criticism of theTimes' decision. After detailing the fine on-the-record and attributed work of journalists at the Times, The Washington Post and elsewhere, he offered this summary of the Trump-critical anonymous op-ed:
"So what? Like most anonymous quotes and tracts, this one is a PR stunt. Mr. Senior Administration Official gets to use the distributive power of the New York Times to recast an entire class of federal appointees. No longer are they enablers of a foolish and capricious president. They are now the country’s most precious and valued patriots. In an appearance on Wednesday afternoon, the president pronounced it all a 'gutless' exercise. No argument here," he said.
Still, lots of points of view.
The New York Times conservative columnist Ross Douthat tweeted: "People who think my newspaper shouldn't have published The Op-Ed are nuts. People who think its author shouldn't have written it are reasonable."
And this from David Frum of The Atlantic, who focused less on what was written and more on the fact that it was written at all:
"Impeachment is a constitutional mechanism. The Twenty-Fifth Amendment is a constitutional mechanism. Mass resignations followed by voluntary testimony to congressional committees are a constitutional mechanism. Overt defiance of presidential authority by the president’s own appointees—now that’s a constitutional crisis."
So where does that leave the nation and newsrooms this week?
Actually, in a pretty good place. It comes back to what Jesse Hyde said Saturday, that journalism, messy though it is, is the pursuit of truth.
Editors at the Times thought they were pursuing the truth and agreed to the anonymous publication. Columnists at their chief competitor, the Post, thought it fell short. And perhaps they thought the Times was trying to steal a bit of Bob Woodward's thunder in the coming release of his book.
Here's another view, and it comes from a Trump Administration official who wrote her own op-ed, this one in the Washington Post.
"I, too, am a senior Trump administration official. I proudly serve in this administration, and I enthusiastically support most of its decisions and the direction it is taking the country. But I don’t agree with the president on everything. When there is disagreement, there is a right way and a wrong way to address it. I pick up the phone and call him or meet with him in person."
That's valuable commentary, brought on by anonymous commentary, brought on by solid reporting.
Jesse Hyde is a tremendous journalist, one of many at the Deseret News doing authoritative, in-depth work. Last week's coverage focused on Utah's upcoming elections, the vote to reject or pass the state's medical marijuana initiative, the participation of Utah's congressional delegation in the confirmation hearings of Judge Brett Kavanaugh, the implications of Nike hiring Colin Kaepernick, the work of faith leaders focusing effort and prayer on the plague of suicide, and more.19 comments on this story
A final word from Jesse Hyde's address, quoting another American who has tried to take a stand, for better or for worse:
"Last year, after yet another attack on the press by our president, the outgoing junior senator from Arizona, Jeff Flake, took to the Senate floor and delivered an impassioned defense of journalism and its role in our democracy," Hyde said.
“'Here in America,' he said, 'We do not pay obeisance to the powerful — in fact, we question the powerful most ardently; to do so is our birthright and a requirement of our citizenship.'”
That's an idea worthy of a TEDx Talk.