Wednesday, January 18, 2017

IS it Time for the News Media to Ditch Trump Press Conferences

Throughout the 2016 presidential campaign the mainstream media provided Donald Trump with free coverage and actively aided in spreading his calls to racism and his outright lies.  Trump's press conference last week was another performance that continued the lies and attacks on the media - indeed, anyone that challenges Trump's dishonest and self-centered agenda. Perhaps the best ting responsible journalist can do is skip the press conferences - assuming Trump has them at all - and simply report on the damage the man is doing and the extremism of a number of his nominees (e.g., Betsy DeVos).  For a narcissist like Trump, few things would hit him harder than simply being ignored.  A piece in Daily Kos argues that the media needs to cease providing Trump with a platform and focus instead on factual news. Here are column highlights:
On the heels of Donald Trump's extraordinarily combative news conference last week came word over the weekend that the incoming administration might relocate the press corps outside of the White House's West Wing.
News outlets, understandably rattled, are searching for traction in a post-fact world so slippery that Trump has turned the term "fake news" against them. The New York Times's Jim Rutenberg deftly diagnosed the problem:
The news media remains an unwitting accomplice in its own diminishment as it fails to get a handle on how to cover this new and wholly unprecedented president.
However, his prescription for White House reporters didn't even come close to reimagining how to approach covering Trump’s presidency. "A united front would have given the reporters stronger footing," he wrote of the melee that broke out during Trump’s press conference. I agree with the sentiment, but as someone who values good reporting and also attended White House briefings for a couple years, I would like to pose something a bit more radical to mainstream new outlets: Why even send reporters to Trump press conferences?
Trump, while a totally repugnant human being, is a master manipulator. The press conferences are sheer sport for him and by continuing to engage in them, reporters are simply setting themselves up as targets on his terrain. A president already has an unfair advantage in the very controlled setting of a presser. The two premises that help level the playing field for reporters when cross examining any president are: 1) that facts matter, and 2) that serving the American people is primary to a president’s own self interests.
Since neither of those two things hold true for Trump, press conferences will be rendered useless for the next four years. They will be nothing but misinformation forums in which Trump spreads lies and feeds his ego by berating and belittling any reporter who asks him a question he doesn't like.
[W]ith a clear sociopath at the helm, leveling shame and guilt will be a little like taking fly swatters to the 800-pound gorilla in the room. . . . the people behind the podium have to buy into the premise that they are there to serve the voters. There has been absolutely no indication—either at the White House or on Capitol Hill—that Republicans believe there should be any check whatsoever on their power. Least of all, a check provided by reporters. 
Here's what a presser would look like [if the mainstream media stayed away]: Breitbart, Infowars, and World Net Daily representatives duking it out to ask Trump or his minion Sean Spicer some eye-popping questions. Talk about must-see reality TV. No joke—this could do a world of good. It would both deprive Trump of the contentious interactions he thrives on, and/or prove deeply revealing to everyone other than the 35-40 percent of Trump followers who are still hoping he guns someone down on 5th Avenue (i.e. sane viewers).
As for what news outlets could do besides be witnesses to a slaughter: They can either go the way of Washington Post reporter David Fahrenthold, doggedly reporting around Trump rather than trying to report through him. 
Or they could make an honest effort to pour resources into hiring local reporters in order to publicize all the ways in which Trump and Republicans will surely fail voters—even and especially those who voted for them. When coal jobs don't come back, give miners a voice. When millions of Trump voters lose their health insurance, give the uninsured a voice. When the elderly start seeing changes in their Social Security benefits, give them a voice. . . . . how about picking 25 swing districts where GOP congressional members will be particularly vulnerable in the 2018 midterms?
For national reporters and editors, this idea of boycotting Trump news conferences is going to sound radical (even if it doesn't to readers of this site). But the goal isn’t to stop covering Trump, it’s to cover him in ways that don’t distort and serve as a distraction to the truth.
 Weak calls for “solidarity,” even if they get a buy in from members of the press, won't provide any protection against a White House that has no ability or interest to act in good faith. 
I believe that Kerry Eleveld is onto something.  Would that the press would follow this suggestion.

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