No, Mr. President

by William H. Freivogel

Opinion

No, Mr. President, it isn’t true that journalists “don’t like our country.” Our job is to hold our country and our president to the values of freedom, equality and diversity that make America special.

No, it isn’t true journalists are “liars” and “sick people” who write “fake news” and stir up “division” in the country. The news you call fake is real and the sharp divisions since Charlottesville are largely a product of your making. Think about last week’s unhinged press conference in Trump Tower.

No, journalists are not trying to “take back our history and our culture.” And exactly what is it about the culture of the Confederacy and the Old South that you want to celebrate? The treasonous attempt of Jefferson Davis and Robert E. Lee to destroy the United States? The evil and bloody war to preserve the original sin of slavery? The post-war disenfranchisement, segregation and lynchings of African-Americans in carnival-like settings?

No, Mr. President, it isn’t okay to whip up the crowd to get them shouting at the press corps. Journalists have thick skins but it is beneath the office of president to lead your supporters in chants directed at the people who are the eyes and ears of the rest of the nation.

No, you haven’t accomplished more in seven months than any president in history, although your total number of misleading and false claims is a record, now topping 1,000. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/fact-checker/wp/2017/08/22/president-trumps-list-of-false-and-misleading-claims-tops-1000/?utm_term=.b71800c70e16

In one long, rambling speech to shouting supporters in Phoenix Tuesday night, Trump said all of these things in expanding on what has become a perpetual war against “the enemy of the people.”

CNN’s Sara Murray reported “most of the people at these rallies — even ones booing — treat it as a joke,” but added “there are some who treat Trump’s ‘fake news’ diatribes seriously.

“They believe it when Trump lies about the cameras being turned off. They harass reporters and photographers. Trump knows what he’s saying is false. People close to him know it puts journalists at risk just for doing their jobs. He does it anyway.”

Even though Trump has failed to pass signature legislation on health or tax or infrastructure, the seven months of his failed presidency have been remarkable for scandal and dysfunction.

Who would have guessed that by summer Trump would be attacking Sen. Mitch McConnell or that the Senate majority leader would be wondering out loud whether Trump’s presidency could survive the damage the commander-in-chief already had inflicted?

Who would have thought on Inauguration Day that Flynn, Priebus, Bannon, Spicer and Comey all would be gone?

Who would have thought the leaders of industry would resign from Trump’s White House panels because of the president’s failure of moral leadership after Charlottesville?

Who would have thought Robert Mueller would be special counsel delving deeply into the Russia investigation — an investigation that has upset Trump so much he tried to get the FBI director to drop it, tried to get intelligence chiefs to resist it, fired the FBI director over it, dictated the misleading cover story to conceal it and berated Sessions and McConnell for failing to protect him from it?

Mr. President, the press’s job is not to make the nation’s CEO look good. It’s to hold the president and other public officials to the nation’s laws, constitutional principles and core values. If the president makes mistakes, it’s the press’ job to alert the American people. If the other branches of government fail to check presidential abuses, it’s the press’ job to serve as a constitutional check by bringing the abuses to light.

Yes, the press wants to make American great again. Shining a light both on the president’s — or the nation’s — accomplishments and shortcomings is a journalist’s form of patriotism.

The Constitution under stress after Charlottesville

Opinion

by William H. Freivogel

The bloody weekend in Charlottesville, Va. has put enormous strain on President Donald Trump, the First Amendment and constitutional checks on the president.

Trump flunked the stress test spectacularly in his unhinged, red-faced rant of a press conference by failing to speak to the nation with the voice of moral authority.

The First Amendment emerged from the weekend tattered, facing new questions about how to protect protests when demonstrators are hateful and armed.

But the separation of powers held up pretty well. An unprecedented number of top Republicans criticized their own party’s president for failing to call out white supremacists and neo-Nazis. And the mainstream media continued to pepper Trump with hard questions in the face of the president’s repeated and false refrain about “fake media.” People would understand his view on Charlottesville, he claimed, “if the press were not fake and were honest.”

Going ‘rogue’

Trump wasn’t supposed to answer questions after his Trump Tower event on infrastructure on Tuesday, but he went “rogue,” as one staffer put it. Chief of Staff John Kelly stood glumly to one side.

White House economic adviser Gary Cohn, standing near the president, was “particularly displeased” according to Politico, that “the president launched into a rant about the culpability of the ‘alt-left’ while calling some of the protesters at the white nationalist rally ‘very fine people.’”

Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s wife, also was trapped next to Trump. McConnell on Wednesday said simply, “There are no good neo-Nazis.”

Exhibiting the nastiness he shows when backed into a corner, Trump went out of his way to attack Sen. John McCain, R-Az. Asked about McCain’s criticism of the alt-right, Trump shot back, “you mean Sen. McCain who voted against us getting good health care.” Then, in an especially distasteful quip, he added sarcastically, “I’m sure Sen. McCain must know what he’s talking about it.” McCain is under treatment for brain cancer.

By Wednesday the resignations of seven top industry leaders from presidential advisory councils led Trump to dissolve two of them. He didn’t hesitate to blast some of those who quit in protest for failing to bring jobs back to the United States.

Sprinkled throughout the press conference were attacks at the media. “I’m not finished, fake news,” he said when he thought a reporter was interrupting. At another point, he suggested his view would be better understood “if you were honest reporters, which in many cases you are not….”

“Unlike the media before I make a statement I like to know the facts … I had to see the facts, unlike a lot of reporters” — a claim that doesn’t pass the sniff test coming from the president who has lied more often in his first year of office than any other president.

But most disheartening was the ignorance of American history explicit and implicit in his comments. He defended the “very fine people” there because of “the taking down of, to them, a very, very important statue and the renaming of a park from Robert E. Lee to another name.” He said these protests were understandable when “you are changing history, you are changing culture” by taking down Confederate monuments.

Never mind that these “very fine people” were standing next to white supremacists and Nazi’s chanting, “Jews will not replace us.” Never mind that the city had changed the name from Lee Park to Emancipation Park. Never mind that Trump failed to see the difference between Robert E. Lee, a traitor who fought a war to destroy the United States, and George Washington, who fought a war to create it.

First Amendment

After the death of a counter-protester and two police officers, the ACLU and federal courts faced criticism for having forced the city to allow the demonstration in Emancipation Park, rather than another park a mile away.

As a matter of black letter law, U.S. District Judge Glen E. Conrad was right to issue an injunction forcing the city to allow the demonstration in Emancipation Park. The judge noted that the city had tried to move the white supremacists’ rally away from Emancipation Park, but had not revoked the counter-demonstrators’ permits for the area near that park. This amounted to discrimination against the white supremacists based on the content of their speech, which violates the First Amendment. http://ftpcontent.worldnow.com/wvir/documents/kessler-federal.pdf

But Slate’s Dahlia Lithwick and Mark Joseph Stern suggest future First Amendment cases may have to factor in the growth of the Second Amendment and open carry movement. They wrote:

“The judge (Conrad) failed to answer the central question: When demonstrators plan to carry guns and cause fights, does the government have a compelling interest in regulating their expressive conduct more carefully than it’d be able to otherwise? This is not any one judge’s fault. It is a failure of our First Amendment jurisprudence to reckon with our Second Amendment reality.” http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/jurisprudence/2017/08/the_first_and_second_amendments_clashed_in_charlottesville_the_guns_won.html

Josh Blackman, a professor at South Texas College of Law Houston, made a similar point in the Lawfare blog. He noted that Justice Robert H. Jackson had once cautioned that if the court “does not temper its doctrinaire logic with a little practical wisdom, it will convert the constitutional Bill of Rights into a suicide pact. https://www.lawfareblog.com/first-amendment-grounds-charlottesville

Twitter shaming

Another media-related First Amendment issue emerging from Charlottesville was the Twitter campaign – @YesYoureRacist – to shame white supremacists and neo-Nazis who attended the rally.

A first casualty was Cole White, a cook at a hot dog stand in Berkeley, Calif. who lost his job after he was outed as a demonstrator. White has no First Amendment protection because the amendment does not protect people from a private employer.

But Peter Cvjetanovic, a student and employee at the University of Nevada does have constitutional protection from the 10,000 petitioners who demanded him be expelled for his views.

The university said it rejected his views but added, “there is no constitutional or legal reason to expel him from our University or to terminate his employment.”

The university is right. As despicable as Cvjetanovic’s views are, they cannot be the basis of punishment by a state institution.

Those joining in the Twitter campaign might ask themselves how they would feel about a social media campaign to expel a member of Black Lives Matter or the anti-fascist Antifa group? They also might ask whether they want to be part of an online vigilante attack that sometimes mistakenly singles out lookalikes.

In an online piece of the New Yorker, the insightful journalist Robin Wright asks alarmingly, “Is America headed for a new kind of Civil War?” Wright quotes experts who warn America is not immune from the problems that befall other countries.

http://www.newyorker.com/news/news-desk/is-america-headed-for-a-new-kind-of-civil-war

But that is a risk we should be able to avoid as long as the press and courts check the power of this wayward president, as long as Republicans with the spine of Sen. McCain criticize Trump’s excesses and as long as the First Amendment provides a constitutional way for protesters, right and left, to vent their anger.

Eyewitness to a century of big news stories

Publisher’s note:  Richard Dudman wrote this third-person autobiography about his career in 2004

by Richard Dudman

Dudman with Elizabeth Pond of the Christian Science Monitor and Michael Morrow of the Dispatch News Service International. The three were captured together in Cambodia in 1970.

Thirty years after his capture, Dudman interviews the former general who oversaw his captivity and release.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When Richard Dudman was captured in Cambodia in 1970 by Viet Cong guerrillas when covering the Vietnam war for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, he whispered to his two fellow journalists, “If we get out of here alive, we’ll have one hell of a good story.”

The remark was partly in fun, intended to bolster the spirits of the younger reporters, as the three of them were marched off into the jungle with their hands in the air and AK-47s pointed at their backs.

But, at the same time that Dudman sensed the danger, he saw the capture as a rare opportunity to observe the other side in a war that he had been covering off and on for a decade as a correspondent for the Post-Dispatch.

When the three were released nearly six weeks later, Dudman told the story in a syndicated series of articles and later in a book, “40 Days with the Enemy.”  The personal experience enabled him to explain how the guerrilla soldiers’ survival skills and high morale had been able to withstand heavy U.S. bombing and how the American war seemed increasingly unwinnable.

 

Almost flunking out

The quest for a “good story” shaped Dudman’s entire career as a reporter over a span of 67 years.  As a college freshman, he started as a reporter and photographer for the Stanford Daily in 1936, with a summer job the following year on his uncle’s daily newspaper, the Oroville (Calif.) Mercury-Register.  He almost flunked out of Stanford through his devotion to journalism.

Dudman’s first job on a major paper was as a reporter on the Denver Post.  One of his best stories was an account of a Hispanic war veteran’s effort to buy a house in a restricted neighborhood.  The would-be buyer happened to have lost both legs as a U.S. Marine in the World War II battle of Guadalcanal.  The man had a good job managing the laundry at a veterans hospital and was clearly well qualified to buy the house – except that he was a “Mexican,” as the head of a Denver real estate company said.

The realtor tried to explain that the buyer would be happier in a neighborhood of his own kind. He was startled to learn that the reporter intended to write a story about the case and rushed to the newspaper office to try to prevent it. He went into the composing room and made the mistake of touching the lead type. Outraged union typographers stopped him, and the story was printed. The man got the house.

While on the Denver Post, Dudman was sent to Europe to check on the strength of the Zionist movement among Jewish displaced persons.  He found his way into one of the semi-secret convoys arranged by the Haganah, the Jewish army, slipping out of Germany and heading for Palestine.  He joined the group and obtained a false passport identifying him as a Polish Jew named Yehashua Reiss. He covered the group until it was halted in Marseilles when the British intercepted an earlier group on the ship Exodus and returned the emigrants to a displaced-persons camp near Hamburg. Dudman switched to the Exodus story and covered it to the end.

 

Three decades at Post-Dispatch

In 31 years at the Post-Dispatch, he started as a reporter and rewrite man in St. Louis and wound up as chief Washington correspondent and head of the newspaper’s seven-member Washington bureau.  His last story in Washington was the attempted assassination of President Ronald Reagan in 1981.  His leg was in a cast.  He had been hit by a taxicab on an earlier assignment.  Unable to get a cab, Dudman stumped from his office up to the Washington Hilton Hotel, scene of the attack.

While Dudman’s writing style emphasized clarity rather than clever writing, he always strove for forceful expression of the truth.  When he organized a special section on the end of the Vietnam War, timed for publication when Saigon fell to the communists, he started the lead article by calling the end of the war a national “defeat and humiliation.”  Those words made the headline. Most other papers’ wrap-ups on the war used the more acceptable but less accurate description as a “tragedy” or “a noble effort.”

He wrote the lead story when President Richard Nixon resigned rather than face impending impeachment and boarded a plane to leave Washington.  Dudman wrote that Nixon resigned “in disgrace.” But an editor deleted that phrase.

Dudman had the satisfaction of seeing his name on the “enemies list” compiled by Nixon’s staff, together with three other members of the paper’s Washington bureau.

He broke into national and international reporting by accident.  A heavy snowstorm tied up traffic in St. Louis shortly after he had joined the paper as a rewrite man.  He was able to drive the managing editor, Raymond Crowley, to work in his war-surplus Jeep, bumping over curbs and taking to the sidewalk to avoid drifts and stalled cars.  Later, when other reporters were out to lunch, Crowley sent him to cover a riot in the city workhouse.

Dudman hailed a cab and ordered the driver to fall in behind a police motorcycle and sidecar racing to the scene.  Dudman followed the officers into the workhouse courtyard, where prisoners were hurling rocks and bottles.  His eyewitness story helped create a reputation for resourcefulness and courage.

 

Fairground pool desegregation

Racial segregation was widely accepted in St. Louis in the early 1950s.  When the the city desegregated the swimming pool at Fairground Park, Dudman went there on his day off to see how things went.  Hostile whites lined the path as a black father and his children walked from a dressing room to the pool.  Several of the whites complained that the blacks didn’t really want to go swimming but were just trying to assert their rights.

Dudman volunteered a piece for the paper’s “dignity page’ – where it printed news analysis – making the point that the only way to protect civil rights was to exert them, even at personal hazard.

Crowley, by then managing editor, assigned Dudman to the Washington bureau in 1954, when he was completing a year as a Nieman Fellow at Harvard.

One of his first assignments as a member of the Washington staff was to cover the 1954 Guatemalan revolution that overthrew the elected leftist government. Dudman hired a horse and rode for two days to catch up with the invading forces led by Colonel Castillo Armas. He covered the fighting and the victorious march into Guatemala City but missed the fact that the CIA was backing what looked like a makeshift revolution.  From then on, he kept his bag packed and his passport up to date and watched more carefully for possible C.I.A. covert interventions.

Four years later, checking reports that the C.I.A. was preparing an invasion of Cuba, Dudman took a cab from Guatemala to Retalhuleu and found a Cuban emigres’ training camp, being prepared as a jump-off point for the Bay of Pigs invasion.

Dudman covered the growth of American right-wing organizations.  In his 1962 paperback book “Men of the Far Right,” he speculated – accurately as it turned out – that the conservative movement might pull itself together, take over the Republican Party, and nominate Barry Goldwater for president.

One of his early scoops was obtaining a copy of the Dixon-Yates contract, a top-secret key document in an Eisenhower Administration plot to privatize the Tennessee Valley Authority.  The Post-Dispatch published the entire text and expressed copies of the newspaper to Washington, where members of the Joint Committee on Atomic Energy consulted it during public hearings on the matter.

 

Obtaining the Pentagon Papers

Much later, through his left-wing contacts, he was able to obtain parts of the Pentagon Papers shortly after The New York Times and The Washington Post had begun publishing the documents and had been enjoined by the Justice Department.

Dudman undertook several assignments in Latin America, covering the overthrow of Juan Peron in Argentina and a C.I.A.-supported revolution in the Dominican Republic.

He covered the Arab-Israeli war of 1956 and was on assignment in Lebanon when American troops landed in the Suez crisis. Entry into Iraq was blocked after the assassination of Nuri Said, so Dudman first flew to Kuwait and tried to charter a dhow to go up the Tigris River to Baghdad. When that effort failed, he flew to Turkey and hired a taxicab with two other reporters to take a desert track through Kurdish country to Baghdad.

His first venture in the Far East, in 1961, was an assignment, accompanied by Post-Dispatch photographer Paul Berg, to travel the rim of China and find out what he could about Mao Tse-tung’s regime. Americans were prohibited from visiting China at the time.  Most sources were predicting economic and political collapse, but Dudman got a different story by flying to Stockholm for talks with an old friend, Kjell Oberg, who had just completed a year as Sweden’s first ambassador to communist China.  With the help of Oberg’s insights, he was able to describe Mao’s China as likely to survive despite the blunders of the Great Leap Forward.

 

Questions about Vietnam War

On the same trip, Dudman paid his first visit to Vietnam.  Although he had no fixed view of the growing U.S. intervention, he soon found reasons for skepticism. He reported that U.S. warplanes were already firing on suspected Viet Cong forces, although the U. S. forces were officially only advisers.  On his arrival at Saigon’s Tan Son Nhut Airport, he observed a row of spigots along the wing of a U.S. warplane and reported on the American practice of crop destruction as a counterinsurgency measure.  He raised questions about the “strategic hamlets” program, in which Vietnamese villagers were screened and moved into supposedly secure communities surrounded by stockades and moats.

On a conducted tour of one such hamlet, he spotted a break in the moat and a building inside that was up against the stockade.  He asked for an explanation.  His guide, a U.S. military adviser, explained that the building, a rice storehouse, had been placed there deliberately, so that Viet Cong raiders could enter it in night and would not have to disturb the hamlet by breaking in.

In 1970, on one of his periodic trips to Vietnam, he arrived in Saigon just as President Richard Nixon was announcing a brief “incursion” into officially neutral Cambodia by U.S. and South Vietnamese troops.

Like other reporters, Dudman spent several days flying with troops in helicopters to outposts established in the jungle in the search for a supposed Vietcong “Pentagon” in what the Nixon administration called a “privileged sanctuary.”

When the search proved fruitless, Dudman and two other reporters, Elizabeth Pond of The Christian Science Monitor and Michael Morrow of Dispath News Service,  borrowed a Jeep and set out from Saigon to Phnom Penh to see how the invading South Vietnamese were treating their traditional enemies the Cambodians. They saw the South Vietnamese looting Cambodian rice warehouses and private homes, stuffing the sacks or rice and furniture into their military trucks.

 

Death or a good story

The Cambodia venture took a bad turn when the three reporters came to a blown-up bridge and a tree felled across the road.  Realizing that they were probably being ambushed, they began turning around.  Three Asian men carrying AK-47s stepped from behind trees and motioned them out of the car. After a quick body search, they marched the three reporters off into the jungle.  On bicycles and later in an open truck, they were taken deep into Viet Cong territory, then blindfolded, beaten over the head, and eventually taken before a senior Viet Cong officer.  He let them clean up, gave them some rice, and told them they would be freed if his investigation showed that they truly were reporters and not CIA spies.

Thus began several weeks of travel by night–first in a Land Rover and later on bicycles or on foot–and sleeping and resting by day in peasant huts on stilts, with five guerrilla escorts.  The idea was to keep out of sight of American planes, which probably would shoot anything moving on the ground, and avoid the U.S. and South Vietnamese tanks that they could often hear clanking though the jungle.

They soon began eating with their escorts, mainly rice, sometimes with a bit of vegetable or chicken.  Twice, on Vietnamese holidays, they ate roast dog, followed the next day by dog soup. They recognized afterward that the Stockholm syndrome soon set in.  All eight of them–the three reporters and five guerrilla escorts–faced the same hazards and developed a friendship. They sang songs–the guerrillas kept asking for “Old MacDonald Had a Farm”—and playing chess together, using squares marked off on a reed mat and men carved from branches of trees.

Michael Morrow spoke some Vietnamese and was able to pass along to the other two what the guerrillas learned from BBC broadcasts, including the demonstration at Kent State University when national guardsmen shot and killed four student demonstrators.

After five weeks, the captives were told one morning to expect a visitor.  It turned out to be the same senior officer who had interrogated them the first day.  He said they would be freed and asked where they would like to be released. They suggested being taken up the Ho Chi Minh trail, the mysterious North Vietnamese supply route from Hanoi.

Too dangerous, he said.  Then how about sneaking them into Saigon through those secret underground passages?  Not practical, he said.  Finally he did what he had planned all along: Took them on motorbikes to the main highway, near where they had been captured, and let them hitchhike their way to Saigon in a returning South Vietnamese military truck convoy.

Dudman returned to Washington and immediately flew on to St. Louis to write a series of articles syndicated by The New York Times.  He dictated most of the stories from a sickbed, since he had come down with an obscure East Asian bacterial disease, melioidosis.

Why had he been released?  Probably because Hanoi had been deluged by assurances arranged by Dudman¹s wife, Helen, that he was simply a reporter and in no way a part of the U.S. war in Vietnam. Some U.S. Senators, several Communist ambassadors to Washington, Swedish Prime Minister Olaf Palme, and Prince Norodom Sihanouk all interceded.  The Hanoi authorities must also have hoped that Dudman’s reports would do them some good.  The articles and his later book, “40 Days with the Enemy,” did, indeed, portray the Vietnamese guerrillas as human beings with high morale and a determination to win a war of survival.

Twenty-three years later, long after Dudman’s retirement from the newspaper, he learned by chance the identity of the officer who interrogated and later released the captives.  He arranged with the Post-Dispatch to go back to work temporarily and went with a photographer to interview the officer, a retired general, at his home in the Mekong delta.  They compared maps and experiences.  The general said the Land Rover the captives and their guards had used briefly was his own command car; he had had to ride a bicycle for a few days.  His parting words were: “Brother Dudman, I won’t try to persuade you to accept one-party democracy, but you must not try to persuade me on multi-party democracy.”

 

Pol Pot hospitality

Dudman had another close call in Cambodia in 1978. After many applications, he finally got a visa to enter Cambodia during the reign of Pol Pot.  He went on what amounted to a conducted tour, along with Elizabeth Becker, then a reporter for The Washington Post and Malcolm Caldwell, a radical economist at the University of Edinburgh.

After an interviews with the mysterious dictator, the guest house where they were staying was invaded by gunmen.  When Dudman heard shots and saw one of the gunmen outside his second-floor room, he thought at first it was one of Pol Pot’s guards investigating a prowler.

The gunman fired one shot at Dudman, who ducked inside his bedroom and stepped to one side just before two more shots ripped through the door.  There followed a couple of hours of occasional shots, breaking glass and sounds of footsteps.  Finally, the Cambodian diplomat in charge of the visit appeared at the door and said that Becker was all right but Caldwell had been killed. The economist’s body lay next to his bed with a gaping wound in the chest, while the gunman lay dead at the doorway in a pool of blood.

Various explanations were given for the incident. Dudman suspected that Pol Pot’s enemies wanted to frustrate his belated attempt to make contact with the rest of the world by permitting non-Communists to visit the country.

 

A contrarian

Dudman’s account of the visit seemed to demonstrate a contrarian streak in his makeup.  He described other Pol Pot efforts to improve his reputation in the world, some successful housing projects, and the beginnings of rice export, as well as the sight of many healthy Cambodians in contrast to expectations that the entire population was being worked and starved to death.  That was before the mass burial grounds had been exposed.  Dudman ventured the controversial suggestion that, for all his misdeeds, Pol Pot had something of a bad press.

A similar contrariness may have figured in Dudman’s early doubts about the U.S. intervention in Vietnam and in his continuing skepticism about claims that mankind was responsible for global warming.

Another example came in his initial suspicion that the assassination of President John F. Kennedy was the result of a conspiracy rather than simply the work of Lee Harvey Oswald.  Dudman was covering the president’s Texas visit and reported the assassination and Jack Ruby’s shooting of Oswald.

Dudman reported seeing what appeared to be a bullet hole in the windshield of the presidential limousine and suggested that this contradicted the official finding that the president had been shot from behind.

Dudman eventually concluded that the conspiracy theories were far-fetched, but conspiracy buffs kept citing his reports and writing and telephoning him for many years.

As Post-Dispatch bureau chief, he urged speed, accuracy, and fairness – not necessarily in that order – and added, “Don’t be too responsible.”  Too often he had heard public officials trying to talk him out of writing a story on the ground that it might endanger national security.  The true reason for their objection usually was political convenience.

 

Retiring to Maine

Dudman retired from the Post-Dispatch in 1981.  He and his wife decided to move to coastal Maine, where they had spent summer vacations for more than 20 years.  Helen Dudman, who had worked for The Washington Post, Post-Newsweek Stations, and public broadcasting, had been wanting to run something on her own.  They bought a local commercial radio station in Ellsworth, Maine, and Helen gradually expanded it into a three-station business.

Richard helped with the news side but never could get used to writing the news in such short bursts.  His principal interests for a time were sailing his Friendship sloop, maintaining it in the winter, and building a small wooden boat.  He also built a workshop addition on their summer house on Islesford, in the Cranberry Isles, and later a deck and a nearby bunkhouse for their grandchildren.

One day in 1986, when he was working at a boatyard, he got a telephone call from the Chinese embassy in Ottawa with the word that his application for a visa to China was ready to be issued.  It was a long-delayed response to his many demands to cover a devastating earthquake that had rocked Beijing and destroyed the city of Tangshan in 1976.  Chinese authorities had kept putting him off.  Now that the city had been rebuilt, they were ready to let the foreign press visit the site and tell the story.  Dudman went back to work for a month.

Accompanied by a Post-Dispatch photographer, he interviewed scores of survivors as well as Chinese earthquake specialists and told the 10-year-old story in a special section titled “China’s Mystery Quake.”

Chinese authorities had been secretive about the quake, partly because of a Chinese suspicion that such natural events can herald a regime change.  For years, they would venture no total of the dead, and Taiwan obliged by putting out the world that 800,000 people had died, mostly in that city of 1 million.  By extrapolating from death tolls at several factories and a university, Dudman was able to confirm that the eventual Chinese official figure for the death toll – 242,000 – was probably correct.

 

Another journalistic opportunity arose when Peter Bird Martin, a Time magazine veteran and an old friend from their early years on the Post-Dispatch, started the South-North News Service with headquarters in Hanover, New Hampshire.  He assembled a corps of correspondents in developing countries and, with the help of rotating managing editors, produced news stories that mainstream editors found a relief from the usual war-and-disaster stories from the Third World.

Dudman volunteered as one of the managing editors and worked there for nine winters.  Their best break came when a Wall Street Journal reporter, Gerald Seib, was detained in Tehran and the little news service was the only western news organization with a correspondent there.  The result was three world scoops on three consecutive days: when Iranian authorities thought Seib was Jewish and accused him of spying for Israel, when they realized their mistake and planned to release him, and when he arrived at the Swiss embassy in Tehran and was on his way home.

 

Writing editorials

Dudman learned that the Bangor (Maine) Daily News needed a part-time freelance writer to produce two editorials a week to help fill out the column. He took the job and now (2004) is in his fourth year, never having missed a week, writing about war and politics and public health and consumer issues and such nature subjects as why birds fly in Vs and how they know which direction to go.

Richard Beebe Dudman was born May 3, 1918, in Centerville, Iowa.  His father, Virgil Ernest Dudman, was an obstetrician and gynecologist.  His mother, the former Wilma Esther Beebe, had been a school teacher in English and mathematics.  The family moved to Portland, Oregon in 1920.  Dudman attended Washington High School there and then studied journalism and economics at Stanford University, graduating with a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1940.

He worked for a year in a local public opinion polling business and then spent a year in the merchant marine, making his way up from cabin boy to chief cook on a series of tramp steamers in the North Atlantic, dodging their submarines in the early period of World War II.  In 1942, he volunteered for the U.S. Naval Reserve and served four years as a deck officer, mostly on an armed refrigerated supply ship, the USS Tarazed.

After the war, he worked as a reporter and rewrite man at the Denver Post.  He and Helen met there and were married March 14, 1948. they have two daughters, Iris Dudman, a television producer and Martha Tod Dudman, a writer and professional fund raiser.  They have four grandchildren.

 

‘It’s patriotic to question authority’

Publisher’s note:  Margaret W. Freivogel wrote this appreciation of Dudman on his retirement from the Bangor Daily News in 2012.  The piece appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, which merged later with St. Louis Public Radio where Freivogel was editor.  (She is the wife of GJR publisher William H. Freivogel.)

by Margaret Wolf Freivogel

It’s appropriate that Richard Dudman, the quintessential intrepid journalist, retired this week of July 4. For him, journalism has always been a patriotic act.

Of course, Dick has claimed to retire before. He retired as Washington bureau chief for the Post-Dispatch in 1981 after a career that included ground-breaking coverage of the Vietnam War, 40 days in captivity in Cambodia and numerous other scoops. He moved to Maine, only to resurface as an editor for a university-based international news service. He retired from that but emerged 12 years ago as an editorial writer for the Bangor Daily News.

His last of more than a thousand editorials urged Maine’s senate candidates to forgo funding from Super PACs. Characteristically, he argued against secrecy in government. “The high court has held that money is a form of speech and that corporations have the same First Amendment right of free speech as individuals,” Dick wrote. “But the anonymous donations restrict the public’s ability to track which special interests are influencing which campaigns and candidates.”

At 94, Dick may be serious about retiring this time, though I hope he’ll find a new way to continue sharing his signature pithy insights. One I recall well was reserved for slow reporters. “He who sits on hot story gets ass burned,” Dick advised. He always kept a bag packed in his Washington office so he could be out the door before editors had time for second thoughts about sending him on assignment.

With the media world battered by cross currents of economic and technological change, Dick’s work and life shine as a guidestar. His devotion to traditional journalistic principles and zest for trying something new are just the example we need to navigate the shoals of uncertainty.

As Dick learned, charting a new course can be much harder in real time than it looks in retrospect. The love-it-or-leave-it crowd did not cotton to his reporting on the Vietnam War. They didn’t want to hear that reality on the ground was not nearly so sunny as the view from the official briefing in Saigon. The Globe-Democrat once denounced Dick’s work in a front page editorial headlined, if memory serves, “For America or for Hanoi.”

In contrast, Dick believes the most valuable service that journalists can perform for their country is to provide a clear-eyed challenge to conventional wisdom. Years ago, when some critics of the war were burning flags, he built a flag pole at his Maine house and called neighbors together to raise the colors. “Some of our liberal summer friends had questioned why would want to put up a flag pole and suggested that I sounded like a superpatriot,” he recalled this week. Dick told them, “It’s patriotic to question authority.”

Shortly before he left the Post-Dispatch, Dick found himself in uncharted waters. Two eager reporters proposed the crazy idea of sharing a job in the Washington bureau, where 24-7 dedication to work was the prevailing ethic. Would these reporters be sufficiently committed to the calling, he wondered? Dick sought advice from a friend, the feminist author Betty Friedan. “Do it,” she advised. And, with a nudge from publisher Joseph Pulitzer Jr., he did.

The unconventional arrangement was a life-saver for my husband, Bill, and me as we struggled with the logistics of raising our young family. And it turned out to be a good deal for the paper, which could deploy us as a sort of perpetual motion reporting machine.

On Dick’s last day in the office, President Ronald Reagan was shot. Dick ran up Connecticut Avenue to the scene. I rushed to George Washington hospital, where a shanty town of reporters and equipment instantly materialized to keep watch. That evening, Bill arrived in a taxi. I handed him my notes and he handed me the kids, ensuring seamless 24-hour coverage without interruption for sleep.

Then as now, tradition plus innovation works.

Richard B. Dudman – a great American reporter

by William H. Freivogel

Dudman with Elizabeth Pond of the Christian Science Monitor and Michael Morrow of the Dispatch News Service International.  The three were captured together in Cambodia in 1970.

St. Louisans learned about the great events of the second half of the 20th century through the eyes, ears and forceful dispatches of Richard B. Dudman, a great American reporter who led the Washington Bureau of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch from 1969 to 1981.  Dudman died last week at 99.

The Kennedy assassination.  The Bay of Pigs. The Vietnam War.  The Pentagon Papers.  Watergate.  The attempted assassination of Ronald Reagan.  Dudman wrote about them all with a straight-forward, tell-the-truth insight few matched.

He rode a horse to the front when covering a 1954 rebellion in Guatemala instigated by the CIA.  He raised questions about a bullet hole in the windshield of the car in which Kennedy was killed.   Reporting in Vietnam he wrote his editor in 1965, “The war is being lost, and in a hurry.”  About 55,000 Americans died in Vietnam after that assessment.

Dudman and two companions were captured in Cambodia in 1970 and held 40 days – an experience he turned into riveting news stories and a book.

When the United States left Vietnam, Dudman wrote in a special section that the war had ended in “defeat and humiliation.”  Other newspapers called it a tragic end of a “noble effort.”

Dudman had a proud place on Nixon’s Enemies List.  In his story about the Nixon resignation he wrote the president was leaving office “in disgrace” – a truth an editor cut out.

When a federal court ordered The New York Times to stop printing the Pentagon Papers – the secret history of the Vietnam War – Dudman figured out where to get a copy and wrote stories for the Post-Dispatch.  He was dismayed that a top editor submitted to a court order blocking publication.

On a return trip to Cambodia in 1978, Dudman narrowly escaped death by dodging bullets and hiding behind a bed.  Another reporter on the trip was killed.

On his last day at the Post-Dispatch Dudman covered the attempted assassination of Reagan, even though his leg was in a cast.

Dudman retired from the Post-Dispatch but not from journalism.  He became active in the family radio station in Maine and wrote editorials for the Bangor Daily News until he was 94.

In celebrating the life of this great American reporter, we have linked to obituaries in The New York Times, Washington Post, St. Louis Post-Dispatch and Bangor Daily New.  The Times obit is an extraordinary account of Dudman’s career.

Also published here is an autobiographical story that Dudman wrote in 2004, an appreciation my wife, Margaret Wolf Freivogel, wrote upon Dudman’s retirement from the Bangor paper in 2012 and an article I wrote for the journalism review on his 95th birthday.

Dudman played a special role in Margie and my lives by agreeing in 1980 to bring us into the Washington Bureau sharing a job so we could raise our four children while continuing our reporting.  Dudman was skeptical of the arrangement until he asked the opinion of a good friend – Betty Friedan.

Included in the package are photos from Dudman’s life, including one from this spring when he perked up during hospice as he read in the Times about the incredible news from the new administration in  Washington.  We’d all be better off if Dick Dudman were here to cover the Trump presidency.

Leaks reveal important truths about Trump

By William H. Freivogel

Opinion

One theme emerging from this historically chaotic week in the Trump White House is the president’s continued insistence that leaks to mainstream media have created a phony scandal about Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

But President Trump’s effort to downplay the Russia story by delegitimizing the mainstream press seems destined to fail because of three high hurdles.

  1. In trying to persuade Americans the Russia story is fake news, the president contradicts the consensus conclusion of American and other Western intelligence agencies that Russian President Vladimir Putin personally directed the intelligence operation that hacked Democratic National Committee and Clinton campaign emails as part of an effort to defeat Hillary Clinton and elect Trump. The intelligence professionals making this assessment work for the president.
  2. Special Counsel Robert Mueller is an unbiased, professional law-enforcement official. A White House disinformation campaign is not going to derail his investigation into whether the president obstructed justice or his campaign violated election laws by coordinating with the Russians. Mueller’s job is to enforce standards embedded in law, standards immune from White House propaganda.
  3. The New York Times and the Washington Post’s track records for accuracy give great credibility to their disclosures. This is not Fox News, where there was apparent coordination with the White House on its false story on the murder of DNC staffer Seth Rich. (The whole point of the Seth Rich story was to blame the DNC for the leak of the emails while clearing the Russians and thereby Trump.)

Consider what the American people know about the Russia story because of leaked stories published in the Times and Post as part of what media critic James Warren describes as “the last great newspaper war.” Here’s what we know but wouldn’t without the leaked stories:

— Former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn lied about his improper contacts with Russia during the last days of the presidential transition. Acting Attorney General Sally Q. Yates warned the White House about the lies and Flynn’s susceptibility to blackmail on Jan. 26, but the president waited 18 days to remove Flynn, acting only after the Post published the story based on multiple anonymous sources.

— Attorney General Jeff Sessions had failed to disclose to Congress that he had met top Russians officials during the presidential campaign. The information led to Sessions’ eventual recusal, the act that made Trump so angry because Sessions couldn’t protect him from the probe. (In a few days, Sessions will publicize an increase in the number of leak investigations, which may help get him out of Trump’s doghouse.)

— Trump asked FBI Director James B. Comey in an Oval Office meeting in February to “let go” of the criminal investigation of Flynn. The request came after the president had dismissed other witnesses, including Sessions. Comey, after Trump fired him, leaked his account of the meeting, expecting, correctly, it would lead to appointment of a special counsel.

— Trump told top Russian officials in an Oval Office meeting in May that Comey was “crazy, a nut job.” He added, according to a leaked transcript of the encounter, that before firing Comey,“ I faced great pressure because of Russia. That’s taken off.”

— Trump asked top intelligence officials in March to help him push back against Comey and the FBI on the Russia investigation, an act reminiscent of President Nixon’s effort to use the CIA to block the FBI investigation of Watergate.

— Donald Trump Jr. met with a Russian lawyer at Trump Tower during the presidential campaign to get the dirt on Hillary Clinton. “I love it,” he said at the prospect of getting information.

— President Trump took charge of the drafting of Trump Jr.’s first statement on the meeting as the president flew back from the Group of 20 summit in early July. That statement misleadingly stated: “We primarily discussed a program about the adoption of Russian children that was active and popular with American families….” In ensuing days, Trump Jr. revised the statement several times and finally released emails just before the Times published them. The emails show Trump Jr. was promised “ultra-sensitive “ information on Clinton as “part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump.”

The Post’s story this week about Trump’s direct involvement in the misleading statement about the Trump Tower meeting contradicts the repeated claims by the president’s lawyer, Jay Sekulow, that Trump had nothing to do with drafting the statement. Sarah Huckabee Sanders admitted this week that Trump “weighed in just as any father would.” Hopefully, most fathers wouldn’t help their sons evade the truth. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-fix/wp/2017/07/31/trumps-lawyer-repeatedly-denied-trump-was-involved-in-trump-jr-s-statement-but-he-was/?tid=a_inl&utm_term=.2a36be54815c

The development also makes untenable Sekulow’s constant denial that Mueller is investigating the president for obstruction of justice. The Post has reported that Mueller is looking into obstruction and the bare bones of an obstruction case are now in full view:

Ask Comey to drop the Flynn investigation. Fire Comey when he proceeds against Flynn. Ask the intelligence chiefs to push back against the Russia investigation. Direct the drafting of a misleading statement about a meeting confirming Russian’s desire to help Trump by providing dirt on Clinton.

Much of last week’s drama and chaos in the White House was itself connected to White House campaign against leaks. Anthony Scaramucci — whose meteoric rise and burnout set records for brevity as communications director — called New Yorker reporter Ryan Lizza last Wednesday night to find out who had leaked that the president and first lady were dining with Fox’s Sean Hannity and former Fox executive Bill Shine. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-fix/wp/2017/07/31/trumps-lawyer-repeatedly-denied-trump-was-involved-in-trump-jr-s-statement-but-he-was/?tid=a_inl&utm_term=.2a36be54815c

Of course Lizza wouldn’t disclose his source and that led to the vulgar rant against then Chief of Staff Reince Priebus and Chief Strategist Steven Bannon — a rant that Trump initially “loved,” according to the New York Post, but used four days later to remove Scaramucci.

Scaramucci demonstrated his and the White House’s hypocrisy about leaks by first threatening to subject Priebus to an FBI investigation for leaking and then defending his rant by saying he was talking to Lizza off the record — in other words, the man fighting a war against leaks was claiming to be leaking himself.

The truth is that much of the leaking has apparently come from the warring factions in the White House. These leaks generally are not illegal and often in the public interest.

Leaking classified information and information hacked from email is illegal, although printing the information is not. But leaking unclassified information from government sources is legal for both leaker and reporter.

Not all leaks are equally just. WikiLeaks’s publication of hacked DNC emails during the election campaign made it an arm of Russian intelligence agents who apparently had obtained them. Had American media known then what they know now about the extent of Putin’s control of the hacks, respectable media outlets, it is hoped, would have provided more context for the stories they published on the DNC/Clinton emails.

But the leaks disclosing deception and wrongdoing in the Trump White House have provided the American people with important information they need to made a judgment about their president. This is the way in which the press serves as an important constitutional check on the president’s power and abuse of power.

Time to send Donald Trump to time-out

By William H. Freivogel

Opinion

Almost every day, President Donald Trump behaves the way parents tell their children never to behave. He lies, boasts, berates friends, threatens foes, acts like a spoilsport, blames others for his failings, objectifies women, demands the spotlight and relishes flouting the norms of public behavior.

To many of his supporters, turning the world topsy-turvy is refreshing, even fun.

But Trump’s rude, crude behavior must be jarring to millions of good, decent people who voted for Trump only to find him violating every rule of good behavior.

Trump’s speech to Eagle Scouts in West Virginia this week was a classic. After promising not to be political, he attacked President Obama, Hillary Clinton and the “fake media.” Somehow he worked into his speech a six-minute story of meeting a failed real estate developer at a Manhattan cocktail party — with references to fabled exploits on his yacht.

Bill Kristol, the conservative commentator, tweeted after the speech, “He’s so far beyond the usual bounds of even vulgar politicians’ vulgarity….” Former CIA Director John E. McLaughlin tweeted, “Trump’s Boy Scout speech had the feel of a third world authoritarian’s youth rally.”

Trump’s everyday actions challenge the Scout motto of “trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean and reverent.” These are not character traits associated with the current president.

Think about the norms parents teach their children.

Don’t lie: This week Trump falsely blamed The New York Times for tipping off the leader of ISIS to a U.S. strike. He also claimed, “So many stories about me in @washingtonpost are Fake News.” These are among the 800-plus lies Trump told during the first six months of office, including fabrications about five million fraudulent voters for Hillary Clinton and Obama tapping Trump Tower.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/fact-checker/wp/2017/07/20/president-trumps-first-six-months-the-fact-check-tally/?utm_term=.4e3aa4ec041c

Don’t deceive yourself: A year after Russians came to Trump Tower to interfere with the presidential election in their meeting with Donald Trump Jr., the president continues to say he is not convinced the Russians interfered. In a remarkable exchange with CNN’s Jake Tapper, Trump’s new communications director, Anthony Scaramucci, said the Russians are too slick to get caught hacking. “Somebody said to me yesterday, I won’t tell you who, that if the Russians actually hacked this situation and spilled out those emails you would never have seen it,” Scramucci said. “They are superconfident in their deception skills in hacking.”

When Tapper pressed who the anonymous source was, Scaramucci responded, “How about it was the president.”

Be loyal to your friends: Attorney General Jeff Sessions, the first senator to support Trump for president, received a dose of Trump “loyalty” this past week. The president told the New York Times he wouldn’t have appointed him if he had known Sessions would recuse himself from the Russia investigation. In other words, Trump wanted Sessions to protect him from the criminal investigation of Russian interference in the election that threatens his family and his presidency, even though Sessions’ recusal was required by Justice Department policy.

Don’t shift blame to others: After telling the Times last week that Sessions’ recusals was “very unfair to the president,” Trump came back this week with tweets about the “beleaguered AG” whom he then beleaguered with the Tuesday morning tweet: “So why aren’t the Committees and investigators, and of course our beleaguered A.G., looking into Crooked Hillarys crimes & Russia relations?” Later in the day, he labeled Sessions “VERY weak,” something one doesn’t want to be in Trump’s administration of alpha males.

Don’t develop a persecution complex: Trump made it clear in the Times’ interview that the Russia investigation is Fake News pursued as part of a “witch hunt” by the mainstream media. He also criticized the acting director of the FBI, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and Special Counsel Robert Mueller, possibly as a prelude for firing one or more of them. He said Sessions’ recusal was “very unfair to the president.” He revised that Tuesday to say — inexplicably — it was unfair to the presidency, as if the presidency can’t withstand an attorney general’s proper recusal decision.

Don’t showboat: Trump starts most days by tweeting his grudges and grievances and grabbing the nation’s attention. Everything screams “look at me.” Look, I have big hands. Look, I attract the biggest crowds. Look, I’m really, really rich and smart and went to the best schools.

Don’t call people names: Trump has turned around this parental admonition and attached a nasty pejorative to every opponent. Crooked Hillary. Little Marco. Lyin’ Ted. Goofy (Elizabeth) Warren, alias Pocahontas. Low Energy Jeb. Crazy Bernie.

Then there are the norms of public life that Trump flouts.

He threatens to lock up political opponents such as Hillary Clinton. He ridicules cabinet members in public. He writes nasty, graphic tweets about women and their bodies. He refuses to embrace the unanimous conclusion of his intelligence agencies that the Russians tried to influence the election in his favor. He fires the FBI director after demanding loyalty and asking him to block a federal criminal investigation. His son meets with a Russian agent to get dirt on Clinton instead of reporting the contact to the FBI. Trump cuts off support for Syrian rebels, handing Russia a victory in Syria. He blasts federal judges for incompetence when they disagree with him. He calls reputable news organization fake and believes reports of disreputable news organizations. He told a Youngstown, Ohio, audience Tuesday night that he was trying to get beyond the filter of “Fake, fake, fake news.”

At one point in the Youngstown speech, Trump addressed the criticism that he is not presidential.

“Sometimes they say: ‘He doesn’t act presidential,’” Trump told the audience. “And I say: ‘Hey look; great schools, smart guy, it’s so easy to act presidential, but that’s not going to get it done.’ . . . It’s much easier, by the way, to act presidential than what we’re doing here tonight.”

He added, “With the exception of the late, great Abraham Lincoln, I can be more presidential than any president who has ever held this office. That I can tell you. It’s real easy.”

If it’s so easy, Mr. President, give yourself and the American people a breather and try a few months of being presidential.

The lies are catching up with Trump – a presidency imperiled

By William H. Freivogel

Opinion

False and misleading statements from President Donald Trump and the White House pile up day-by-day, week-by-week, steadily undermining the president’s credibility and making him the most unpopular president in modern history at the six-month mark.

Trump claims to have signed more bills than any other modern president. He hasn’t.

He blames the Democrats for killing the GOP health bill when it was the Republicans who couldn’t muster a majority.

His son first denies ever meeting with Russians about campaign issues, then admits meeting a Russian lawyer but says it wasn’t about the campaign, then admits he was promised a Russian government lawyer had dirt on Hillary Clinton, then releases emails expressing delight at the prospect of the dirt, then claims to have told everything about the meeting but leaves out other Russians in attendance.

Trump defends his son’s decision to meet with the Russians tweeting, “Most politicians would have gone to a meeting like the one Don jr attended in order to get info on an opponent. That’s politics!” But political operatives from both parties say it isn’t just politics to collude with agents of America’s chief adversary and the proper response would have been to call the FBI.

Trump’s lawyers say he is not under criminal investigation even though they have no way of knowing and the claim is difficult to believe. Robert Mueller was appointed special counsel after fired FBI Director James B. Comey disclosed the president asked him to drop the investigation of former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn – an act that is arguably obstruction of justice. And now there are reports Mueller is investigating the Trump Jr. meeting.

All of this lying and misleading is in the last 10 days alone. Before that Trump lied about President Barack Obama tapping Trump tower, about millions of illegal voters for Clinton, and of course there was the big lie that was a cornerstone of his campaign – that Obama wasn’t born in the United States.

One might have thought Trump would take a vacation from his refrain about the “dishonest” mainstream media and “fake news” as his son was the source of the documents about the Russia meeting. But there’s no stopping this president who tweeted a day later, “Remember, when you hear the words ‘sources say’ from the Fake Media, often times those sources are made up and do not exist.”

And this week, when the media disclosed that Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin had an undisclosed meeting on the side of the G-20 summit – in which Trump spoke to Putin through the Kremlin interpreter – Trump complained bitterly “The Fake News is becoming more and more dishonest!”

Some of conservative commentators finally have lost patience. Last week Fox’s Chris Wallace said any fair-minded citizen should worry “about the fact that we were repeatedly misled about what this meeting concerned.” And Fox anchor Shepard Smith told Wallace, “Why is it lie after lie after lie? … My grandmother used to say … Oh what a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive. The deception, Chris, is mind-boggling.”

Then this week the Wall Street Journal editorial page called for “radical transparency” criticizing the Trumps for having “created the appearance of a conspiracy that on the evidence Don Jr. lacks the wit to concoct. And they handed their opponents another of the swords that by now could arm a Roman legion…. Denouncing leaks as ‘fake news’ won’t wash as a counter-strategy beyond the President’s base, as Mr. Trump’s latest 36 percent approval rating shows.” The brutal realities of Washington, the Journal warned, will “destroy Mr. Trump, his family and their business reputation unless they change their strategy toward the Russia probe.”

It is true that a PPP poll shows more than half of Trump’s supporters think Trump Jr. never met with the Russians, even though he admits it. But Trump’s low approval ratings show the lies have had a cost. As Trump’s overall approval rating has slipped, the percentage of strong Trump supporters has declined while the percentage of strong opponents has grown.

It will take months for Mueller to complete his investigation, but it isn’t too soon to say this presidency is imperiled.