In “Trump vs. the Media: The Challenges of Covering the President,” three journalists from different publications came together to discuss the challenges journalism has faced since the election of President Trump. During the panel Monday night in the Friedman Auditorium, the journalists discussed their experiences covering the Trump administration and the broader impact of Trump on journalism and society.
The panel began with David Corn ’81, the D.C. bureau chief of Mother Jones, introducing the other two speakers: Benjamin Domenech, publisher of the Federalist, and Sabrina Siddiqui, political reporter at the Guardian. Corn noted the coincidence of Domenech sitting to his right and Siddiqui to his left, as the former works for a conservative-leaning publication and the latter for a liberal-leaning one. But, Corn noted, “In Washington, ideology is not what divides people anymore.”
Corn first brought up Trump’s frequent use of the term “fake news.” What Trump really means when he says this is, “I don’t like this,” Corn said. Trump will paint the media that he disagrees with in a negative light to antagonize them, he said. He described this sort of behavior to The Herald as “the actions of an authoritarian.” Trump is mostly concerned with maintaining his image in front of the public, which makes sense for a TV star; however, Trump does not have any appreciation for the media’s responsibility to hold those in power accountable, he said.
Domenech also pointed out Trump’s tendency to find a particular piece from a media outlet that he paints as fake, and then extending it to accuse an entire news outlet, creating distrust amongst readers. Trump does this because of his narcissism, and because he loves to fight with those who claim to purvey truth, Domenech said.
Siddiqui agreed with Domenech’s analysis, noting the White House’s use of terms such as “fake news” or saying that “facts no longer matter” when they disagree with media organizations. With previous administrations, a news agency could make mistakes and it would not make much of an impact. But under the current administration, the White House will attack a false claim by an outlet “like never before,” Siddiqui said.
Corn said that, more and more, people are tuning out of the news and considering a headline or a 10-second video an adequate source of news, which the Trump campaign capitalized on during the presidential race. Siddiqui added that people currently only seek out media that align with their own viewpoints. Domenech added that the Trump administration is constantly sending out new information of varying degrees of importance, which the media subsequently picks up unfailingly.
Domenech outlined two frustrations amongst Trump supporters: They believe he can’t focus and can’t keep his promises.
The panel agreed that many Trump voters had abandoned their ideals to support him. They voted for Trump because, to them, he was a new line of defense. Siddiqui agreed that the culture war viewpoint drove Republicans to vote for Trump. Corn added that Trump had exploited the politics of resentment toward certain groups and issues, such as race, immigration, the economy and the exclusion of evangelicals from popular culture.
Corn brought up the issue of trustworthiness and the unusually high number of lies coming from the White House and asked Siddiqui how she covers this political environment. She said that people can become distrustful of the media if they believe they are lying or following an agenda. She added that news organizations need to be immensely diligent in fact-checking and that news organizations must figure out exactly what matters and should be covered.
Corn raised the question of whether or not the media has properly covered Trump, as publications are often accused of bias. Television does not do an effective job as a news source and often draws people to small issues that do not matter in the long run, Domenech said. Siddiqui pointed out a network’s incentive to be a ratings-seeker rather than a provider of the most important news, which leads them to cover these ultimately unimportant “shiny objects.” Both agreed that print news is currently doing a better job than television at covering the critical issues. “It is more important not to be objective, but to be accurate,” Corn told The Herald.
After briefly giving advice to potential journalists and providing a bit more background into their careers, the panelists took questions from the audience. One audience member asked how to divert attention away from the “shiny objects” and toward the more important news stories. Siddiqui said that it is important for journalists not to lose sight of what is important and to devote resources to reporting the real news. Like other workplaces, newsrooms also face challenges in recruiting a diverse staff. A change could help in this regard, she added.
In the past, news sources had less of an ability to figure out who was reading what, which led to more balanced newspapers, Corn said. But today, publications produce whatever leads to higher ratings, creating inequity to replace the balance that had previously existed. People should support the media they read in whatever way they can, he added.