WASHINGTON — The tumultuous presidency of Donald Trump will be the subject of a forum this weekend featuring two well-known national voices, Andrew Rosenthal of The New York Times and Chris Hayes of MSNBC.
The two will have a 90-minute discussion Sunday presented by Conversations on the Green, which has been bringing big names to the small town for five years, at the Washington Montessori School. Ticket sales for the sold-out event will help benefit the school.
“It’s an effort to really bind together the community,” said Lindsey Gruson, who founded Conversations with his wife, Jane Whitney. “Especially in the era of this administration, it’s important for people to feel less alone, to see where their opinions fall on the spectrum.”
Lindsey Gruson has known Andrew Rosenthal for some five decades; their fathers both held administrative roles at the Times.
The late Sydney Gruson and the late A.M. Rosenthal had become friendly in the mid-1950s, just before Rosenthal was expelled from Poland by a government that didn’t like what he was writing. The elder Rosenthal was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for international reporting in 1960 for that work. He died in 2004.
Andrew Rosenthal, in an interview this week, said the forum takes places at a difficult time for the American presidency and the journalistic profession, and for him as a columnist for a publication that Trump calls “failing” and “fake.”
Almost all of his columns in the Trump era have been about the man he calls a “middle-school president,” citing the president’s penchant for blaming others for his own mistakes.
“I’ve never seen editorial boards, in such a sustained and systematic way, saying the president of the United States is an incompetent fool,” Rosenthal said. “His interest in working within government is almost nil.”
Journalism has always run counter to governmental talking-points in a effort to shine a light on truth, he said, but an American administration with “alternative facts” — one in which “every issue is subject to re-litigation” — has put him and his Times colleagues in a position of defending their work more than they ever have.
He has seen this type of spin before, he said, when he worked for the Associated Press in Moscow in the mid-1980s.
“The best preparation for this was spending time in the Soviet Union,” he said.
In those days he read Pravda, the official Communist Party newspaper, to learn what officials wanted him to know. Now he learns what the president thinks by reading his tweets.
“He speaks to the nation through 120-some characters, usually before dawn,” Rosenthal said.
And even though he writes an opinion piece, Rosenthal said he and colleagues like Hayes have to stick to the truth in an America where the meaning of truth has become fluid.
Fittingly, he wrote in December, there are two words for truth in Russian: “pravda” and “istina.”
“Despots, autocrats and other cynical politicians are adept at manipulating pravda to their own ends,” he wrote. “And then there is istina: The real truth, the underlying, cosmic, unshakable truth of things ...
“You can fiddle with the pravda all you want, but you can’t change the istina,” he wrote.
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