Archive

January 27th, 2017

Trump and the press live in interesting times

    When Donald Trump calls reporters and editors "the most dishonest human beings on earth," it's worth remembering that Thomas Jefferson, in his second inaugural address, accused the press of engaging in "falsehood and defamation" while covering his administration.

    So presidential hostility toward the press is hardly new. Still, Trump has cultivated a new level of acrimony and seems determined to make the White House-press relationship the most adversarial in well over four decades.

    I covered the White House a little bit and directed coverage for two big news organizations over almost 20 years. It's important to have good reporters chronicle the history that presidents make every day.

    But the most important reporting is not done inside 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. That's what reporters should remember in the heat of battles over the size of inauguration crowds, belligerent tweets and threats to shut down the White House press room.

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How to cover Trump? Literally and seriously

    Facing the looming realities of President Donald Trump, media outlets have been chewing nervously on an unusual question: How do we cover this guy?

    Of course, although one would be hard-pressed to name any president who has made the reporter's life easy, none until now have been known to taunt the press -- and urge their supporters to join them -- as eagerly and unpredictably as Trump has done on Twitter.

    But the chilliness in Trump's media relations almost iced over amid reports a few days before his swearing-in that press secretary Sean Spicer was considering pulling news media offices out of the White House.

    After reporters put up a howl, Trump said in the friendly confines of "Fox and Friends" he decided not to move the press briefings, even though he still wanted more room to invite more reporters. The reporters, he said in a mocking tone, will "be begging for a much larger room very soon. You watch." Ha, ha.

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The consequences of weak crowd numbers

    When it comes to presidential popularity, perceptions can matter in less than intuitive ways. Anything that can affect perceptions might actually make a difference to whether a new president gets his way with Congress and to how his party fares in the midterm elections -- even if it is something that, rationally, shouldn't make any difference.

    The easiest argument in the world is to make the case that turnout at either Donald Trump's inauguration on Friday or at the nationwide demonstrations against him on Saturday just doesn't matter very much. After all, in either case the number of people is far, far fewer than the numbers who voted for Trump (almost 63 million) or against him (about 74 million, including almost 66 million for Hillary Clinton). Nor is there any reason to believe that either attendance number predicts future election outcomes. Barack Obama's record-setting swearing-in ceremony gave way to unpopularity and a Republican landslide in 2010; massive protests against the Vietnam War in 1969 and 1970, the first two years of Richard Nixon's presidency, didn't stop him from winning 49 states in 1972.

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Listen to the river, Mr. President

    “The river has taught me to listen; you will learn from it, too.”

    Herman Hesse’s line is about an actual mass of water droplets, but it certainly could apply to a stream of people – the one that flowed through the nation’s capital Saturday, and in state capitals, and in cities overseas -- all connected: one river.

    Listen to it.

    Was it 2.5 million people gathered worldwide to peacefully make a statement the day after Inaugural Day? Hard to say. Hard to count.

    Exact numbers aside, what a sight.

    And what dignity: protest in the greatest American tradition – peaceful, solemn, stoic. On decorum alone, the new president could learn much from the marchers.

    Democratic Congresswoman Debbie Dingell, who said 7,500 people arrived from her state of Michigan in 100 buses, saluted them, then offered words more conciliatory than may be permitted in Donald Trump’s DNA.

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The Tempting of the Media

    There are two common views among journalists about the fate of our profession under the presidency of Donald Trump. The first is that ours is an age of maximal danger for the freedom of the press, that Trump’s war on newspapers and networks will escalate from tweets to Erdoganian crackdowns, that truly independent journalism will be marginalized while the White House breeds a lap dog press.

    The second is that this will be a golden age for the media, offering reporters a chance to shake free from access journalism and source-greasing and actually do their job in full, while finding in a Trump-fearing country the audience for serious investigative journalism that many believed had vanished with the internet.

    As the press eases into covering President Trump, however, I have a different worry. Mainstream journalism in this strange era may be freer than the fearful anticipate, but not actually better as the optimists expect. Instead, the press may be tempted toward — and richly rewarded for — a kind of hysterical oppositionalism, a mirroring of Trump’s own tabloid style and disregard for truth.

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Kellyanne Conway is wrong: Trump's election doesn't prove America agrees with his positions

    One of the flukes of the American democratic system is that we vote for people who embody a broad range of ideas, rather than weighing in on the ideas themselves. This is advantageous from a practical sense; plebiscite votes on everything that came before Congress would be impractical for a hundred reasons. But it affords those we elect an opportunity to blend and obscure what it is that people are actually voting for.

    A good example was manifested on Sunday by Kellyanne Conway, adviser to President Trump.

    Asked by ABC's George Stephanopoulos how the administration would respond to a petition on the White House website calling for the release of Trump's tax returns, Conway was dismissive.

    "The White House response is that he's not going to release his tax returns," Conway replied. "We litigated this all through the election. People didn't care. They voted for him. And let me make this very clear. Most Americans are very focused on what their tax returns will look like while President Trump is in office, not what his look like."

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How long will Sean Spicer allow himself to be humiliated by President Trump?

    This is your dream, Sean Spicer - to be White House press secretary. Anything you can do in your dreams you can do now.

    I borrowed those words of encouragement from Twilight Sparkle. You know, the "My Little Pony" character. Spicer should be familiar with the quote because he used it last summer to argue falsely that Melania Trump didn't really plagiarize Michelle Obama in a speech at the Republican National Convention. (He contended Obama's words were so generic that they were virtually indistinguishable from Twilight Sparkle's and therefore could not be the subject of a legitimate plagiarism claim.)

    I figure Spicer could use a little pick-me-up after his Worst Week in Washington, and his favorite flying unicorn is just the one to deliver it.

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Never Mind The Facts

    Never mind the facts, I know what I believe seems to be the prevalent thinking in all too many instances - on both the political right and the left. Knowing that a leopard can't change its spots we should not be surprised that the 45th President gave another campaign stump address instead of an inaugural come together message. That certainly explains him but what I can't understand is the criticism of Barack Obama for not fulfilling all his campaign promises.

    Yes, we had high hopes in January of 2001 when our first person of color took the oath of office thereby becoming the most powerful man on the planet--power in one sense but not in all the details of political nuance controlled by an opposition legislature. He had only two years of party control of the Congress, hardly time to make a dent, much less implement all our high hopes - high hopes of correcting things that had been years in the making, particularly our race relations.

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Dear media: The Trump White House has total contempt for you. Time to react accordingly.

    Here is one thing we learned about the new Trump White House this weekend: It views the institutional role that the news media is supposed to play in our democracy with nothing but total, unbridled contempt. We may be looking at an unprecedented set of new challenges for the media in covering the new president. What remains to be seen is how it will respond.

    The New York Times reports Monday morning that journalists are deeply alarmed by statements made by Trump's top advisers over the weekend, in which they faulted the media for reporting accurately on his inaugural crowd size. Jeff Mason, the president of the White House Correspondents' Association, is quoted lamenting that the Trump White House must "get started" on a more constructive basis with the media.

    But I fear these journalists are understating the problem. This isn't simply a matter of signaling bad relations. Rather, what Trump and his advisers are doing is explicitly stating their contempt for the press' institutional role as a credo, as an actionable doctrine that will govern not just how it treats the press, but how it treats factual reality itself.

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Breaking news: You can't believe what President Trump says

    I've spent the last few days reading accounts of President Donald Trump's inauguration speech, but I'm having a fundamental problem absorbing the analysis because I simply don't believe anything he says.

    I'm not just saying that I don't believe that "carnage" describes the American condition (if it does, we need a new word for Syria), and I say that as someone who's been trying for decades to get policymakers to pay attention to the economic costs of globalization.

    I'm saying I don't believe that he believes it.

    From his speeches to his tweets, Trump does not speak truth. Instead, he speaks in two modes. One, he says what his audience wants to hear, and two, he does his "Art of the Deal" shtick, trying to put perceived enemies and negotiating opponents back on their heels.

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