By Casey Bukro
The Boston Globe added another twist to a bizarre political season by publishing a satirical front page intended to show a future based on presidential candidate Donald Trump’s words and proclamations.
“Deportations to Begin,” was the banner headline of the fake page, dated Sunday, April 9, 2017. “Markets sink as trade war looms,” read one headline. “New libel law targets ‘absolute scum’ in press,” read another.
Let me make it clear right now that this is not an attempt to cover politics. AdviceLine patrols the journalism ethics beat. We let the political writers, columnists, bloviators, commentators, prognosticators and fulminators deal with the uncertainties and comedy of political life.
The Boston Globe’s hypothetical front page did not run on the actual front page of the newspaper, but appeared inside as a front page of the Ideas Section of a Sunday edition of the Globe. It referred to an editorial, “The GOP must stop Trump.”
Reuters called the page a “parody.” CNN said “the faux front page resembles an April Fools’ Day prank by a college newspaper,” although it was nine days too late for that.
More importantly, the Globe was not joking. It was trying to show “Donald Trump’s America,” according to an editor’s note in the lower left-hand corner of the bogus page. “What you read on this page is what might happen if the GOP front-runner can put his ideas into practice, his words into action.” The editorial made the same point.
This episode is worth a closer look because of the stir it caused among journalists. For better or worse, the Globe also shows what future journalism could look like as newsroom staffs and budgets shrink and newly minted news managers “try something different.”
Think about it: Would an earlier generation of editors like Walter Cronkite do something like this? Views on what is news, and what might attract new or young readers, are shifting.
Trump himself called the lampoon of a presidential candidate “stupid,” “worthless” and “totally dishonest.” Slinging digs of his own, Trump said “It’s a make-believe story, which is really no different than the whole paper.”
Writing for the Poynter Institute, James Warren, a long-time political observer, said the mock page fell flat.
“It was overkill, too cute by half and unavoidably implied that Trump supporters are all idiots. It read a bit less like humor than like a serious attempt to predict what a Globe front page might really, truly look like early in a Trump presidency. It wasn’t funny, and it was only ridicule if you share the Globe’s point of view that Trump himself is absurd.”
It also tends to reinforce the impression, said Warren, that journalists who appear on late-night TV shows and try to be funny tend to flop. (Warren and I were Chicago Tribune colleagues.)
Would an earlier generation of editors like Walter Cronkite do something like this?
Political satire is not easy. Even “Saturday Night Live” had pratfalls, sometimes whole seasons of them. It might be argued that what the Globe did was a blunt political statement.
Another Poynter Institute writer, Benjamin Mullin, noted increasing numbers of newspapers in recent years published editorials on their front pages, “generally considered hallowed territory for straightforward reporting.”
They included the Indianapolis Star, the New York Times and the Las Vegas Review-Journal. Few ran satirical or unorthodox front pages, he said, except for USA Today, which published a commemorative edition.
Mullin added that the Boston Globe is not the first news organization to imagine a Trump victory. The Atlantic published an article examining a “fictional and disastrous term” for Trump, he said.
Politico reported that Trump blasted the fake page, but noted such a page was “a new thing in this campaign,” while Trump’s tirades against media organizations were common.
Mediaite, a news and opinion blog covering politics and entertainment, said the anti-Trump page “Fails Miserably.”
Overall, the assessments appear to conclude that the Boston Globe’s satirical dig at Trump was a miss, not a hit. Interesting, maybe, but not especially successful. Something for those trying to remake journalism by using humor and frivolity to keep in mind.
Effective political satire, put-downs, tend to aim for the jugular. You have to ask yourself if a newspaper with an illustrious history, including 23 Pulitzer prizes, is the proper vehicle for that.
Sure, journalism is changing. But objectivity, ethics and fairness are still hallmarks of the most prestigious and respected journalists and media.
Edited by Stephen Rynkiewicz. Comment below in the “Leave a Reply” box. For advice from our ethics advisers, submit a question.