For journalists, covering the president is never easy, but Donald Trump has made it nearly impossible during his short 20 days in office. The reason? He is still acting as if he were on the campaign trail, rather than acting like a leader. He still rants against everything and everyone that is critical of him, makes outlandish claims that have no basis in fact, and his ‘presidency’ has become nothing more than an extension of his campaign, only worse.
First there are the contradictions.
- Prior to his inauguration, Trump slammed the intelligence community repeatedly in response to what he said was unfair coverage caused by leaked information from intelligence officials. He even went so far as to tweet: “Outgoing CIA Chief, John Brennan, blasts Pres-Elect Trump on Russia threat. Does not fully understand. Oh really, couldn’t do much worse – just look at Syria (red line), Crimea, Ukraine and the build-up of Russian nukes. Not good! Was this the leaker of Fake News?” But then, on January 21st, the day after his inauguration, he stood before the Central Intelligence Agency’s Memorial Wall to give what amounted to yet another campaign speech, patting himself on the back, touting the falsehood about how many were in attendance at the inaugural, and said “I want to say that there is nobody that feels stronger about the intelligence community and the CIA than Donald Trump. There’s nobody.” He then said he ‘assumed’ most everyone in attendance had voted for him.
- In December, he said, “The United States must greatly strengthen and expand its nuclear capability until such time as the world comes to its senses regarding nukes. Let it be an arms race,” Then in January he said, “I think nuclear weapons should be way down and reduced very substantially.”
- In 2013, Trump claimed to have a ‘relationship’ with Russian President Putin, even wondering if Putin might become his ‘new best friend’. Then in January, “I don’t know that I’m gonna get along with Vladimir Putin. I hope I do. But there’s a good chance I won’t. And if I don’t, do you honestly believe that Hillary would be tougher on Putin than me? Does anybody in this room really believe that? Give me a break.”
Those were just a few examples of the many contradictions and denials that journalists have to try to discern what is fact vs. fiction. Then there are the outright lies.
- “The murder rate in our country is the highest it’s been in 47 years.” Actual murder rate is 4.9 per 100,000, as compared to 1995 when it was 8.2 per 100,000
- Says “109 people out of hundreds of thousands of travelers” were affected by the immigration executive order. At that time, it was between 60,000 – 100,000
- Terrorism and terrorist attacks in the United States and Europe have “gotten to a point where it’s not even being reported.” According to Benjamin H. Friedman, a research fellow in security studies at the libertarian Cato Institute, “terrorism in the West is overreported compared to terrorism elsewhere. The vast majority occurs in the non-western world, generally amid civil wars, and those attacks receive far less coverage than ones closer to home.”
And I could go on and on, but you get the idea. Then there are the lies told by his minions, such as the one about the infamous “Bowling Green massacre”, but I have neither time, space, nor inclination to go into all that in this post.
Then there is the problem of Trump’s preferred format for communication, Twitter, and his endless, nonsensical tweets. While journalists are kept hopping trying to keep up with his tweets, what is happening that they are not seeing? I’ve mentioned before that news about the investigation into the Russian hacking that interfered with our election has been virtually non-existent. Trump’s failure to fully distance himself from his businesses? What else is taking place that we know nothing about, as we are all focused on his latest tweet calling Nordstrom’s “very unfair”, or criticizing Saturday Night Live for their mockery of himself and Sean Spicer?
And of course, there is his constant and continual bashing of the press, using words like “dishonest,” “lying,” and “unfair”, and saying at various times that one media outlet or another, usually the New York Times, is on its way out. This not only makes it difficult to report the news, but sways some of the public to believe that legitimate news must be “fake” because Trump said so.
In an interview with Fox News last month, Kellyanne Conway suggested that reporters who had been critical of Trump should lose their jobs. “Who is cleaning house? Which one is going to be the first network to get rid of these people, the people who think things were just not true? Not one network person has been let go. Not one silly political analyst and pundit who talked smack all day long about Donald Trump has been let go. I’m too polite to mention their names, but they know who they are, and they are all wondering who will be the first to go. The election was three months ago. None of them have been let go.” Excuse me, Kellyanne, but it is not the job of the media to pander to Mr. Trump … it is the job of the media to report the facts.
Finally, Sean Spicer is as inept a White House Press Secretary as I have ever seen. Questions are circumvented, and he embellishes or ignores facts altogether, so the daily press briefings likely have little or no value for reporters trying to ascertain facts.
While all of this explains why the coverage of Trump has been somewhat chaotic, it is imperative that journalists find a way to provide the important facts, rather than the propaganda, and keep the public informed of those things they need to know. Two articles worth reading in Politico by senior writer Jack Shafer contain some valuable advice to journalists trying to find their footing in this post-truth world, a world of ‘alternative facts’. The New Rules For Covering Trump and Unsolicited Advice for the White House Press Corps .
I fully support the right to freedom of the press, for without it, our democracy cannot survive. I fully support our journalists … they have a job that is tougher than ever before. However, they need to regroup, re-structure, and re-think their traditional methods. Now more than ever, in the swirl of falsehoods and half-truths presented by the administration, it is imperative that every fact be checked for accuracy. In-depth investigative reporting is crucial to keeping the public informed about what our elected officials are actually doing. If they do not do so, I fear the freedom of the press may become diminished by the constant criticism from the administration. The press must be above reproach. I find the reporting of U.S. happenings is more accurate in some of the European media outlets than in our own. Entirely too much attention is being given to the red herrings that are tossed out by Trump and his minions … a dangerous situation.