On January 17, 2017, Bill Marimow, the Editor and Executive Vice President of the Philadelphia Inquirer, spoke at Temple Law School as part of Temple’s Presidential Transition Lecture Series. Marimow is a two-time winner of the Pulitzer prize. Before his tenure at the Inquirer, he worked for numerous other media outlets, including the Baltimore Sun and NPR. Professor Laura Little invited Marimow to share with the Temple Law community his perspective on the 2017 presidential transition generally and the relationship between President Trump and the media specifically.
Professor Little began the conversation with a question about the current state of civil rights. Marimow remarked that, due to the tumultuous relationship between the police and the public, it is critically important that the Justice Department continue its tradition of integrity when investigating civil rights issues. Marimow shared an anecdote about a case many years ago in which numerous witnesses saw police officers severely beat a man in the street. These officers were later acquitted in their criminal trial. Marimow explained that the court system is not always the best adjudicator of the truth, which highlights the importance of journalism in society.
Professor Little then shifted gears to the relationship between President Trump and the press. Marimow stated that this relationship is a rapidly changing one but that he could not recall a president who has been so in touch with the public so frequently and so erratically–due in large part to social media. In response to whether the president needs the press in today’s multimedia world, Marimow asserted that it is crucial for the press to analyze and dissect the truth or falsity of the president’s statements. He related this to the core purpose of the First Amendment: that people be able to publicly evaluate political candidates and make informed decisions at the polls.
Marimow also touched on the phenomenon of “fake news.” He defined fake news as news that is a hoax, or categorically untrue. He stated that the best way to combat it is to adopt a “trust but verify” strategy, meaning that people should not automatically assume that news is true. Instead, they should take steps to ensure the accuracy of what they are reading, such as confirming news with credible sources. Marimow noted that a Stanford report found that eighty percent of high school students cannot distinguish between legitimate news and fake news. It is important for leaders in social media to take steps to address this.
Going forward, Marimow highlighted the importance of listening carefully to people from different social, economic, and political backgrounds. He realized that, during the election season, publications like the Inquirer had not listened closely to the concerns of people in those counties that supported Trump, people who had felt ignored and isolated from mainstream society. He explained that one of the Inquirer’s goals in the coming months is to tap into those segments of the community to see how they feel and how they think Trump is performing as President, and then to share those insights with the public.
The full video of Marimow’s talk can be found here.