There’s nothing unusual about my waking up each morning not sure about exactly I’ll be blogging on that day. There’s everything unusual about making up my mind immediately after glancing at the front page of the print Washington Post that arrives at my home daily. All it took was one look at the paper’s coverage of President Trump’s decision to consider starting negotiations to enable the United States to rejoin the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) – the Pacific Rim trade deal that he denounced during his campaign for the White House and that he withdrew from in his first week in office.’
The problem with the Post coverage entailed the one of the greatest sins journalists can commit – portraying matters of opinion as matters of fact. This transgression, moreover, almost could not appeared prominently – in the third paragraph of the edition’s front page lead story.
According to writers Erica Werner, Damian Paletta, and Seung Min Kim (and of course their editors),
“An embrace of the TPP would give Trump more leverage in his escalating trade feud with Beijing. It also would give U.S. farms, retailers and other businesses better access to foreign markets if China makes good on its recent threats of new tariffs on U.S. goods.”
In other words, what’s not to like about the treaty? And how could Mr. Trump have possibly turned it down?
Yet what’s apparently escaped the Post news team is that the points made above are far from facts. They’re opinions. They’re possibilities, to be sure, and have long been central to the case for TPP. But they’re nothing more than contentions. At best, no one can know whether these benefits will be realized. Indeed, as I’ve observed repeatedly (see, e.g., here and here), because of specific provisions of the version of TPP agreed to by former President Barack Obama (but never ratified by Congress), grounds for major skepticism about all these claims abound.
When I tutored Washington, D.C. school kids several years ago, one of the lessons assigned to me for second or third graders was distinguishing fact (“that chair is brown”) from opinion (“that chair is pretty”). Little did I imagine that adult journalists would need drilling on this subject, too.