An interview with a newsroom leader who speaks the truth about Donald Trump

A few weeks ago, the editor of the Cleveland Plain Dealer, Chris Quinn, became an instant hero to the legion of news consumers who are fed up with the media’s refusal to call Donald Trump what he is.

In his weekly “letter from the editor,” under the headline “Our Trump reporting upsets some readers, but there aren’t two sides to facts,” Quinn wrote:

The north star here is truth. We tell the truth, even when it offends some of the people who pay us for information.

The truth is that Donald Trump undermined faith in our elections in his false bid to retain the presidency. He sparked an insurrection intended to overthrow our government and keep himself in power. No president in our history has done worse.


He continued, bluntly:

As for those who equate Trump and Joe Biden, that’s false equivalency. Biden has done nothing remotely close to the egregious, anti-American acts of Trump.

It was a brilliant clarion call against dishonest both-sidesing in political journalism, and it went viral. The response, as he wrote a week later, was overwhelming – and overwhelmingly positive.

Quinn even had the rare courage to liken our current political environment to that of Germany in the 1930s as Adolf Hitler was rising to power.

Citing a New Yorker magazine review of the book “Takeover: Hitler’s Final Rise to Power” by historian Timothy W. Ryback, Quinn wrote that the book “explains how German leaders – including some in the media — thought they could use Hitler as a means to get power for themselves and were willing to look past his obvious deficiencies to get where they wanted. In tolerating and using Hitler as a means to an end, they helped create the monstrous dictator responsible for millions of deaths.”

I spoke to him on Thursday about his column, the response, Hitler, NPR, and his relationship with Cleveland area readers. The following excerpts are lightly edited for clarity.

On finding the right tone: “It took a long time to do it”

Chris Quinn
Chris Quinn

I’ve worked really hard to get good communication going with readers. And so last year I had 36,000 – literally — texts and emails from readers directly to me.

As part of that, I was hearing from people who watch Fox News who aren’t the fire-breathing Trumpsters. These are reasonable people. They watch Fox News. They trust Fox News. They believe what they see on Fox News, and then when they come to our platforms, whether it’s for the local news or the sports or the entertainment, they’re seeing us saying: “Donald Trump tried to overthrow the country,” and these kind of things. And they’re trying to understand that conflict.

And so these folks write very courteous, nice notes, saying: “I’ve got a conflict here. I don’t understand how you can just dismiss me because I believe what I believe in Donald Trump. And you’re just writing me off. How can you justify that? How do you justify dismissing a part of your audience?”

And I got enough of these where I thought “I’m going to have to address it.” And I started right before last November’s election to try, and every time I started I stopped because I felt like I was coming across as mean. I was coming across as disparaging. I didn’t want to do that. I wanted to respond in the same kind of tone that they were writing to me. And that’s hard to do, because I do think this guy, by any objective measure, is a terrible human being, and the worst president in history, and the facts all back that up. So how do you balance that? And it took a long time to do it.

On being a regional news organization: “There aren’t a lot of mixing pots left in America in media“

Look, we’re regional, right? We’re not a national outlet. And as a regional newsroom, that covers sports and entertainment really well — has a huge audience for that — we’re the mixing pot. There aren’t a lot of mixing pots left in America in media. But we are, because if you like the Cleveland Browns and people on the left and right love the Cleveland Browns, the only way you get our information is coming to us. And so we get all sides, and our audience is on all sides, which you don’t see a lot now, because people have kind of picked their media on the national scale.

And that’s a good thing that we are the mixing pot, the melting pot, we do get to hear from great many people. I hear from a lot of people on the right, on the left. I don’t know that the Washington Post and the New York Times can say that. I don’t know that CNN — and I doubt very seriously that Fox News — can say that. But in a newsroom like ours, and we’re pretty robust and thriving, we do.

On what upset some readers: “I have not minced words about Donald Trump”

We run a lot of op-eds. We run a collection of national columns. But we have a lot of different platforms, and one of our platforms is a weekday news discussion. I host it with three editors where we talk about the big stories of the day. We’ve been very openly critical of Donald Trump there. And so part of it’s that.

I also started four years ago sending out a daily text message — with a character limit, 640 characters — that talks about questions we’re asking, stories we’re working on, just general inside-the-newsroom kind of things.

You gotta come up with something every day, and in that I have not minced words about Donald Trump.

So some of this is direct to me. Some of it is about the opinion platform. Some of it is about the story choices. You know: “If you’re gonna run the story about Joe Biden, why aren’t you running the story about Hunter Biden’s laptop?” There’s always the false equivalence kind of thing going on. People try to equate kind of the monstrous stuff Donald Trump has done to the Afghanistan pullout, and there’s no comparison, but they want that comparison. And so there’s a lot of that kind of correspondence.

On the overwhelming response: “There’s a lot of anger with the national media”

I was shocked. I told my wife and the editor that I asked to read it: “You know I was expecting the complete opposite.” I expected to get a hundred, two hundred emails and texts saying: “You’re an idiot, you’re in the bag for the libs,” and that kind of thing. And when immediately it was not that I was surprised. And then it just blew up. People were reposting it on their social pages. And you know, I started hearing from across the country and across the globe. And by the end of that first day, I had so many emails from people just to say thanks from everywhere. “Tears in their eyes,” they said, multiple people, saying “I’m reading this with tears in my eyes.”

And I gotta tell you I was taken aback because I didn’t feel like it was anything that we hadn’t said. But then I thought, you know, when you work on something like this for six months, and you’re trying so hard to get the language right. Maybe it’s the tone. Maybe it’s the timing. Maybe it was just the time was right.

There’s a lot of anger with the national media, the New York Times and the Washington Post in particular. People feel that they have allowed the Fox News kind of media to set the agenda — that if you go back and count how many times they’ve looked at Joe Biden’s mental state… Anybody that has read a detailed interview with Joe Biden knows he’s not some dribbling idiot that can’t speak. He’s still got his faculties. But Fox News pieces together the places where he stumbles and says dumb things, and tries to portray him as a blithering idiot, and the people who watch that truly believe it. I mean, I get notes from people that are definitely afraid about the future of this country because they think a guy who has no brain matter left is running it.

So [the readers I heard from] are mad that instead of kind of standing firm and setting their own agenda, because Fox News shows it that way, because a sizable part of the population starts to believe it, they feel like they’ve got to address it like it’s a legitimate concern. Instead of saying: “This is absolute horse shit, we’re not gonna do that.”

I was surprised at how many people brought that up — that understood that and are furious about it. And so they were saying: We wish other national media would do what you’re doing: Speaking about this as clear-headedly as you can, and saying,” the truth is the truth, and we’re not going to veer from the truth.”

On NPR: “They didn’t stand up and speak plainly”

The facts are the facts. It’s fascinating to watch what happened with NPR this week, because they didn’t do the right thing. They didn’t stand up and speak plainly.

And I think that’s why this resonated: We’re saying it straight out. We’re not going to pretend. We’re not going to act like “well, he says she says”. It’s not. That’s not what we’re seeing in America today. And there’s a cadre of people that don’t like it because they worship Donald Trump.

On the local response: “The local people now see me as a person”

The local response was good. But I gotta tell you, we really have established a pretty warm relationship here. It’s something else you can do locally that you can’t really do nationally. So even the people on the right who four years ago, before I really determined to change this — and I was getting notes back then saying: “I want you to die. I want your family to die. You’re an evil person, and I can’t wait till you get jailed.” I mean, it was really very vicious.

I don’t get that now. I get people that look at me as their wacko uncle who doesn’t know what he’s talking about. They write with a greater level of warmth. I’m not saying I still don’t get the completely disparaging, condescending kind of stuff — I do. But it’s not quite as vicious, because the local people now see me as a person, not just some wall.

So it was good. I mean, look, it was across the board. It was more than 90 percent positive. Which still means I got hundreds that disagreed.

What really threw me, and I was glad to see, was the number of veterans — or people who said they’re veterans or in the armed service — that said: “I’m so glad you wrote this. When I signed up to defend our country, I was not defending this. I was defending our country, and he doesn’t speak for our country.” That was cool. I mean, it was good to see because that was not a small number of people.

On the Hitler analogy: “I don’t think we can draw those parallels enough”

I think that the review in the New Yorker of that book was kind of the final piece that I needed to write what I wanted to write.

People hesitate to do it. They hesitate to do it, because the minute you do it you get blasted by people saying: “Once you resort to Hitler, you’ve lost the argument.” “Donald Trump hasn’t killed millions of people. How do you compare it?”

But you know, I spent most of my life wondering how a country could go down the path Germany went down. It just seemed unfathomable growing up when I did that a country could do that. And then came Donald Trump. And you realize: “Wow! That’s exactly how it happens.”

You demonize the media. You create these phony divisions. You dehumanize groups of people. With Donald Trump it’s not Jewish people, it’s immigrants. He’s basically treating them like they’re nonhuman. We’re following the exact path. And I think a lot of people see that but they’re afraid to say it because they don’t want to be vilified for using the suffering of millions of people to push a cause.

But the reaction I got to that was a whole lot of people that said: “I’m so grateful you’re doing this. I’ve long studied what happened in Germany. That’s exactly what’s happening now.” We are on the edge. If he gets elected, he’s not even being secretive about what he wants to do. I don’t think we can draw those parallels enough, because I think right now in America we are on that edge. And a whole lot of people seem to agree.

On Fox News: “I wish somebody would push back”

I think we in the media are making a big mistake in either ignoring it or treating it like it is a media outlet. It isn’t. It is a news-making entity that is basically a propaganda machine.

And I wish — I mean, I think somebody should do this on the national level — I wish somebody would push back by doing a five minute bit as part of their newscast each day to say: “Here’s how Fox News lied and misled you today.” Because it’s working, right? They’re saying all this stuff that’s not true. People are believing it. That wave keeps moving and nobody pushes back. Most people in the media never look at Fox News because you just write them off. But they are having that impact. And it’s incredibly damaging. And it’s total bullshit.

So if somebody were to start pushing back, two things might happen: One, that would bleed into the consciousness of some people that are paying attention to it; and two, I think it would push Fox News back. I think that that if they were being called out — but you’d need somebody that has charisma and is affable and knows how to do it, somebody smart — but I think that could make a difference.

Because, right now, I think that’s the single most dangerous factor here is they are talking to millions and millions of people who trust them. I don’t at all blame the people who trust them. They see them as a media outlet. They believe what they’re being told. They like the people who are telling it to them, and they don’t know that it is what it is. And that did happen in Germany. I mean, it’s this same damn thing. I don’t think in the media. We’re paying enough attention to that misinformation.

On the missing newsroom conversation: “He used us.”

Coming out of the Trump presidency, I felt like there was a conversation going on like: “Okay, you know, we made a lot of money on Donald Trump. People were all over our sites. We got all that programmatic advertising revenue. But he used us in a way nobody had ever used us before. He used our standards for fairness to broadcast all of his nonsense messages to a wider audience. We can’t let that happen.” And there was a conversation. I think there was a bit of a reckoning. That conversation isn’t taking place this year, and I’m not sure why. Because I think most people — at least the people I heard from — want that.

On other editors’ silence: “I think they’re afraid.”

I think they’re afraid of that pushback. I think that the same reason that you’ll see a half dozen stories about Joe Biden’s mental state in the Washington Post and New York Times is it bleeds in, and they’re not setting their own agenda. I wish they would.

On his advice for other editors: “We should stop allowing our platforms to be used to spread these messages”

I think the false equivalence has got to go, because that’s not what this is anymore.

And we’ve made it a point to not quote outrageous, hateful statements by politicians who are just trying to get the use of our platforms to reach their fringe base. I think everybody should do that. I think we should stop allowing our platforms to be used to spread these messages, because that’s the only reason they do it.

We try to do trend stories that say here’s how their campaign is going, and they’re picking on these issues. But we frustrated them because we are kind of the leading voice [in the area]. I wish everybody would do that. I see far too many people quoting the wacko statement of Trump of the day, which is exactly what he wants. He’s just using them to reach more people. But they still do it.


  1. Every 5 or 10 years or so, for the last 30, I hear someone ask; “Why can’t they (our politicians) just stop bickering and get things done?” “Ah,” I think, that person listens to NPR/MSM, probably religiously.
    You can tell, because when you have hardly any information about what is really going on, but think you do, that is the framing that makes the most sense

    A recent NPR story about the airline industry noted that that air travel crashed during the pandemic and so the airlines had cut back on resources, and weren’t ready for the surge that followed recovery. Full stop. Not a word about about the billions in subsidies meant to prevent that. It need only have been “But of course, they were given billions in subsidies so that wouldn’t happen.”

    My favorite is the special episode “This American Life” devoted to bizarre behavior within the Democratic Party where progressives were being disrespected by some very prominent party leaders. Ira Glass resolved to get to the bottom of this mystery and failed; at the end of it, you still have no clue about the 30-year plus war within the Democratic Party.

    After the TAL’s episode basically asserting that creating jobs is impossible, and the episode ripping the lid of the disability scandal–poor people are getting $1400 checks they may not deserve! It is a comfort of a kind to realize that despite their generous paychecks, they are often as clueless as their reporting, i.e. it’s not a con.

  2. God bless Chris Quinn for drawing the analogy to how Hitler and the Nazis came to power, because it is a very precise analogy indeed, as Ruth Ben-Ghiat and others who have studied authoriterianism have pointed out. And the publicly available information on Project 2025 make very clear that if you substitute immigrants for Jews, Trump is going to behave the way Hitler did. Remember, it was nine years from when Hitler became chancellor until the Wannsee Conference that set the Final Solution in motion. The Nazis didn’t start out mass-murdering Jews on Day 1. First they weakened them by stripping them of their legal rights and their earning capabilities, knowing that the Jews’ neighbors would not come to their aid.

    Quinn mentions the point some of his critics make that “Once you resort to Hitler, you’ve lost the argument.” That is a distortion of Godwin’s Law, and Mike Godwin himself said during Trump’s term that he had “repealed” the law — he said he had no problem with people comparing Trump and the MAGAts to Hitler and the Nazis. He thought that comparison was apt. And it is.

    Now, more news-outlet leaders need to be like Chris Quinn.

  3. ” I don’t at all blame the people who trust them. They see them as a media outlet. They believe what they’re being told. They like the people who are telling it to them, and they don’t know that it is what it is. And that did happen in Germany. I mean, it’s this same damn thing.”

    The people who watch Fox and trust them do bear responsibility. They make the choice to watch it, and it is a free choice. If they are watching Fox, then they have access to other news sources that, for DECADES, have explained what Fox really is. Fox viewers choose to ignore all of that. They WANT to be lied to because the Fox message confirms their horrific biases.

    So, I _do_ blame Fox viewers. They make bad choices. It’d be fine if the results of those choices only harmed them, but that’s not what happened. And they are to blame.

  4. Thanks. Followed up with the article [and its follow up]. Heartening.
    I would recommend a book I just finished called Defying Hitler. Written in 1939 by a German fellow who became a lawyer just as Hitler was taking power in 1933. He describes his life growing up and the changes in German society from the vantage point of a regular, but very thoughtful, individual. He left in 1933 because he hated what was happening. Anyhow, a book that presents us with the point of view of the common but insightful person.


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