PBS Newshour anchor and managing editor Judy Woodruff defended the broadcast network program’s unwillingness to call President Trump a “liar” when they catch him saying something that’s blatantly false.
Asked by a journalist at the Television Critics Association’s press tour in Beverly Hills on Tuesday, the veteran anchor said that handling Trump’s veracity has been a challenge during this administration but that they don’t feel comfortable using the word “lie.”
“I understand its a term that’s used a lot now in news coverage, our view is that lying is not a term we can use lightly,” Woodruff said. “When you use the term ‘lie’ you’re saying whatever was said was said with intention. We can’t know what’s in someone mind, so we’re much more comfortable with when somebody says something that cannot be born out by the facts, we say what they said was ‘inaccurate’ or ‘false’…but we can’t dwell on that, we can’t stop the broadcast every few minutes to say something a political leader is saying …we have to make judgment calls on that. I will tell you, the first time I had to say on the air the president said something that was not accurate, I got a lump in my throat. It’s not something journalists are accustomed to doing. This is a different time. That said, we have to be very, very careful how we talk about what the president said because he’s still the president.”
A reporter then challenged Woodruff: I agree with you. But there’s a difference between somebody who says something that turns out not to be true and somebody who says something that is obviously untrue and they must have known that when they said it … especially Trump, who so often does this.
“We try to take it and look at what is the phenomenon that the president is doing here, rather than ourselves try to access and judge every statement,” Woodruff replied. “We don’t feel as journalists that’s our role.”
To which PBS Newshour‘s Capitol Hill correspondent Lisa Desjardins added, “Sometimes when you get into this combative position with the president it doesn’t help people understand the larger issues or understand the fuller scope of what he’s saying that’s inaccurate or untrue. We do pieces that look at what he said and whether it was true or not but also talk about other ripples about that issue, other historical facts about that issue, to help people understand it.”
Trump’s budget proposal earlier this year proposed largely eliminating funding for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which provides funding to public TV stations, NPR, and PBS.