Back in the 1960s women were sometimes candidates for my church denomination’s yearly conference moderator position, but none had been elected yet, when one year the nominating committee listed two women for that position so a woman would finally be elected. Some men came to my father asking him to allow them to nominate him from the floor. My father, who would have loved to be moderator, refused to be a “spoiler” to keep women out of the position. Those men then got another prominent man to run, who was elected over the two nominated women. In a few years, women began to be elected more freely.
I was reminded of this conference moderator event a few months ago, immediately after watching the news conference from England with President Trump and then-Prime Minister May, during our president’s previous visit. Fox News Network’s White House Correspondent John Roberts passed up the chance to follow in my father’s footsteps. President Trump had earlier called on Kristen Welker while commenting that she was from NBC which was as bad as — or worse than — CNN. When he came to John Roberts, the president stated that he would not call on Jim Acosta (who was standing next to Roberts) because Acosta was from CNN — and he only called on legitimate news organization. So he would call on John Roberts from Fox, which was a legitimate news organization. As Roberts began to speak, we could hear Acosta saying something like: “Sir, CNN is a legitimate news organization.”
If he had had my father’s instincts, John Roberts (himself a CNN reporter from 2006-2010) would have said something like: “Mr. President, I believe it is Jim Acosta’s turn; so I will yield to him.” If the president still asked Roberts to speak, Roberts could have refused politely, saying that CNN is a legitimate news organization. If the president still did not call on Acosta, every news journalist there would have had to opportunity to do the honorable thing — either defer to Acosta when called on, or turn around and walk away. As my wife and I discussed this situation, she guessed that John Roberts might have been fired if he had done that. I would have hoped, instead, that Fox News Network would have supported Roberts for his courageous stand — and affirmed that its sister network is a legitimate news organization. While this happened a few months ago, the president’s treatment of these reporters continues.
As I depart for this year’s denominational conference — with a woman moderator — I draw two lessons from the 1960s and the current examples. First: Persons with “privilege” in situations in which others are denied basic “rights” can and should refuse the rights denied others. Second: American journalists can do more than complain about the president labeling some mainstream networks “fake news” and journalists as being “the enemies of the people.” Journalists should not allow the president to play them against each other.
Bill Faw lives in Rockingham County.