Debate spurred by president’s opinion piece gave both sides the opportunity to speak out on key issue in midterm elections
Last week, the Trump administration reached out to the USA TODAY Opinion team to publish an opinion from the president, criticizing the Democrats’ proposal for a government-funded, single-payer health care system known as “Medicare for All.”
David Mastio, the deputy editorial page editor, said it is not unusual for U.S. presidents to submit opinions to USA TODAY, especially ahead of key races such as the midterm elections. Presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush submitted op-eds and opposing views during their years in office as well as in their campaigns.
Trump’s original op-ed was fact-checked and edited by USA TODAY and then sent back for review and revision. Trump’s representatives accepted the changes, and the op-ed ran Wednesday. USA TODAY also linked to original material. But as with all opinion pieces, the editors gave the president leeway on his opinions.
They thought the resulting piece served the public interest by giving readers an early look into Republican strategy going into the midterms, which are only weeks away.
USA TODAY provides a forum for diverse views
The piece generated negative headlines: Critics said we let the president publish falsehoods. Many readers responded aghast that we would give the president — a harsh critic of the news media — a platform. But we also had readers who thanked us for taking the high road and giving the president a platform — in spite of his demagoguery.
After the op-ed ran, editorial page editor Bill Sternberg further explained the reason for publication:
“USA TODAY Opinion provides a forum for a diversity of views on issues of national relevance. We see ourselves as America’s conversation center, presenting our readers with voices from the right, left and middle. President Donald Trump’s op-ed was treated like other column submissions; we check factual assertions while allowing authors wide leeway to express their opinions. Readers are invited to submit opposing viewpoints and provide additional context, some of which will be published in the days ahead.”
This is our democracy in action
And the editorial and news teams did just that, adding to the robust debate with responses from readers and published a FactCheck.org analysis — and Thursday, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., wrote a rebuttal column.
This is democracy in action, and the beauty of our country and of the First Amendment.
One last point worth knowing:
Last Friday, USA TODAY’s Editorial Board wrote that Judge Brett Kavanaugh — Trump’s guy — lacked the judicial temperament to sit on the Supreme Court. At the same time, the Trump administration was going back and forth with our editors on the president’s column. There was no backlash.
“It speaks to the respect and credibility of the board,” Mastio said. “We are seen as an independent voice.”
Manny García is the standards editor for the USA TODAY Network.
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