L.A. Times editor discusses "Our Dishonest President" editorials

Davan Maharaj

The United States is starting to lose its historical status as a global champion of press freedoms, according to Davan Maharaj, the editor-in-chief and publisher of the Los Angeles Times.

On this week's "Reliable Sources" podcast, Maharaj told Brian Stelter about his recent trip to the International Press Institute's World Congress in Hamburg, Germany. He said he sensed that his fellow journalists from other countries "had already given up on the U.S. being a leader for press freedoms, especially under the Trump administration."

Maharaj said he met with German parliamentarians and aides to the German chancellor Angela Merkel, and encouraged them to become more engaged in the fight to free jailed journalists in Turkey, Ethiopia and other countries.

During the meeting, Maharaj said, "it dawned on me that we, the United States, had lost some of our moral standing in the world, when we had to fly across the pond to make sure we got support on this issue."

Related: Listen to the full podcast interview here

There is data to back up Maharaj's assertion: the independent watchdog group Freedom House lowered the United States' score from 21 out of 100 to 23 in a 2017 report on press freedoms. That's the lowest score the United States has received in more than a decade.

President Trump's anti-media attacks were not the only reason for the lower score, but they were a factor.

Recent incidents like the arrest of West Virginia reporter Dan Heyman and the body-slamming of The Guardian reporter Ben Jacobs have stirred concern in newsrooms nationwide. Maharaj said he expects more of these episodes to happen if "the press continues to be denigrated and demonized."

Maharaj's paper -- owned by Tronc, previously known as Tribune Publishing -- is a California institution.

He has been with the Times for 28 years, starting as a summer intern in 1989. In 2011 he became the paper's editor in chief, and in 2016 he also assumed the role of publisher during a reorganization.

He had a hand in "Our Dishonest President," a series of scathing editorials about Trump's character. The first editorial was published in early April and racked up more than four million page views.

"In their collective wisdom, the editorial board decided to show why his sense of victimhood; his denigration of the media; his distrust and his lack of respect for American institutions, all of that, imperiled our democracy," Maharaj said.

On July 4 the pieces will be published as a book by the California nonprofit publisher Heyday.

Maharaj said that his editorial board's disdain for the president does not seep through to the newsroom.

"The news side is walled off," Maharaj told Stelter. They "report, report, report vigorously."

The paper -- like many other print mainstays -- has suffered rounds and rounds of layoffs in recent years. On Friday, days after this podcast was recorded, the Times announced yet more cuts -- a "limited voluntary buyout plan for certain Los Angeles Times employees."

The internal memo said the buyouts would be entirely voluntary. It did not specify how many people might be eligible to leave.

During the podcast, Maharaj pointed to recent investigative journalist hires and new digital extensions as evidence of the Times' ambitions.

"We have to keep the print product vibrant, because it also provides most of the revenue right now," he said.

But on the web, the Times is venturing into podcasting and documentary filmmaking through deals with other companies.

Maharaj said the Trump editorials and news coverage have brought an uptick in subscriptions, the so-called "Trump effect," although not to the same degree as The New York Times or the Washington Post.

Listen to the full podcast conversation between Maharaj and Stelter here. Subscribe to "Reliable Sources" on iTunes.

Social Surge - What's Trending

Newsletter

CNNMoney Sponsors