I can hear the growl in our father’s voice now and picture him leaning back in his chair, his feet in brown suede Gucci loafers propped atop his desk. I see him, hear him, arguing with producers at CBS News in New York as he tries to explain why people in the red state South would still believe Donald Trump, even after former F.B.I. Director James Comey said Trump lied and tried to smear him and the F.B.I.
He wouldn’t like it, but as head of the CBS News Atlanta bureau he would have understood and attempted to interpret why many Southerners would resist what his news colleagues saw as obvious truth: Comey’s testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee that Russia had — and would again — attempt to damage our democracy and that the President had never asked about the Russian meddling.
Our dad, Zeke Segal, grew up in Queens, New York, went to Yale and then the army, gave up dreams of becoming a playwright, worked in radio and then launched a long and great career as a TV news executive at CBS. Landing in Atlanta as the bureau chief, he was an unlikely interpreter of the Southern psyche. But he listened to people, to the reporters, photographers and producers who worked with him. And he heard the undercurrents and recognized discontent before it bubbled to the surface.
So he probably wouldn’t have found it surprising that Donald Trump, another guy from Jamaica, Queens, appealed to people who felt shut out and disenfranchised by Washington. He would have admired Trump’s raw genius for seizing on the anger and fear of so many Americans, and exploiting their troubles to his advantage.
But he would have hated the lying, the attacks on reporters, the U.S. Constitution and the values that make the United States, as James Comey said, “the shining city on the hill.”
He hated it when the world began to use the term “media” to lump together the disparate groups of people who gather news.
“What does media mean?” he’d ask, his face twisting in disapproval. “You’re a reporter, a producer, an editor, a journalist. What’s that bullshit?”
You can imagine what he would say about calling the people who appear on news programs, expressly to lie for Trump, surrogates.
He was a report-only-what-you-know newsman, someone who hated embellishment, and he was more than willing to put the spotlight on people who abused their power.
So my head fills with rants that I hear him muttering from the grave and I don’t try to push them away. I’m right there with him.
I also know how proud he would feel about the state of journalism in this age of awful Trumpism.
He would applaud responsible news organizations, their reporters, producers and editors, for digging deep to reveal the truth and pushing back with facts against the falsehoods that come out of this White House.
He’d also love it that 19.5 million Americans, according to Nielsen, tuned in across 10 networks to watch James Comey testify. He’d applaud the surging interest in quality journalism since Trump’s election, with The New York Times, reportedly adding 600,000 digital subscribers and subscriptions significantly increased at other national papers like the Wall Street Journal and the Washington Post.
Zeke Segal would raise his glass of red wine and use an expletive to say, “That …….ing Trump made news great again.”