Journalists Shouldn’t Play by Donald Trump’s Rules

Photo by Karla Ann Cote (Creative Commons).

On Monday, the world got a glimpse of what journalism will look like during Donald Trump’s presidency. Trump invited a group of television anchors and executives to Trump Tower for an off-the-record meeting. Thinking that the meeting would be about the days ahead as Trump prepares to take office, some of the most influential people in TV showed up. But instead of talking about their working relationship, Trump berated the journalists, criticizing reporters for the way they covered his campaign, giving right-wing outlets like Breitbart fodder to proclaim “Trump Eats Press.” This was a media stunt, through and through. The only thing unusual about it is that journalists were the ones being hoodwinked.

Trump has gotten a lot of applause from supporters for railing against the press. On the campaign trail, he attacked both individual journalists—calling them “sleaze,” “dishonest,” “pathetic”—and media in general, dismissing journalism as “disgusting and corrupt.” At Trump rallies, reporters were kept in little media pens so he could single them out as a group for the audience to boo. As writer Seth Stevenson noted after Election Day, “We were a vital element in Trump’s performance. He never once failed to invite his crowds to heckle us. He was placing us on display like captured animals.” But even as he’s ragging on reporters to promote the idea that he’s a misunderstood martyr in some way, press coverage has helped Trump, not hurt him. During the campaign, he got mountains of free publicity, his ever-incendiary statements, racist antics, and wildly unreasonable policy ideas edging more critical issues off the front page. Even now, the news of him settling a $25 million lawsuit for students who were defrauded by Trump University isn’t getting as much air time as his tiff with the cast of Hamilton.

In addition to that, the efforts of media outlets to be neutral leads to a journalistic cognitive dissonance. A story saying Trump disavows right-wing extremism and promises to refuse to hire racists runs right alongside a story about how his pick for national security advisor has promoted Sharia law conspiracy theories. During the campaign—and now—reporters striving for neutrality instead paint Trump in a softer light than he appears in reality, describing him as a “controversial outsider,” for example, instead of “bigoted.”  

All of this is a lesson in what journalists’ roles need to be under Trump, or any president: to be critical. Instead of just reporting each new missive from Trump at face value, media outlets need to weigh their truth and present them with context rather than as stand-alone promises and remarks. Some outlets are certainly wising up. When Trump demanded an off-the-record meeting with the New York Times on Tuesday, the paper’s editors said they would be happy to meet, but not off-the-record. Trump petulantly cancelled the meeting, then reinstated it and talked publicly. Playing by Trump’s rules—signing his nondisclosure agreements and standing in his media pens—is extremely dangerous. It allows him to control the narrative. And in Trump’s narrative, he always knows best.   

by Sarah Mirk
View profile »

Sarah Mirk is the former host of Bitch Media’s podcast Popaganda. She’s interested in gender, history, comics, and talking to strangers. You can follow her on Twitter

Get Bitch Media's top 9 reads of the week delivered to your inbox every Saturday morning! Sign up for the Weekly Reader:

1 Comment Has Been Posted

Critical journalism

Agreed, but what country are you writing about? There hasn't been any critical journalism in the US at least since Ronald Reagan. Journalists covering the Federal government are known as the CIA stenography pool. And yes the CIA has journalists on the payroll, covertly now through NGO's; they used to pay them on the record and it was a known program called 'Nightingale.' Corporate media is a censor for the government. Seriously. More and more Americans are getting their news from, which is an excellent source of US news that is squelched in corporate media, which all media in the US today is. is attacked by the NSA, always trying to take their site down. The EU just voted to 'declare war' against, because RT is gaining millions upon millions of followers throughout Europe. The US has an office associated with the CIA to combat and Sputnik. Trolls from this office get on the site and flood the comment sections with pre-researched and pre-scripted comments, all
negative against RT and Russia and Vlad Putin et al.

But all this only increases their viewership by magnitudes, as people want to hear and see what the US and West is trying so desperately to censor and deny access to. Call it Solzhenitsyn's axiom. The more writers are suppressed and censored, the more valuable their stories become to readers desperate to read
their suppressed truths. 'One courageous writer telling the truth is like a 2nd government.' Alexander Solzhenitsyn.

Al Jazeera is another media outlet. It is published and broadcast from Qatar.
A documentary they did on doping of world athletes can be found on utube. It's titled: 'The Dark Side.' As you will learn, the US is far more culpable of doping but cheating the testers, than the very countries including Russia that they so arduously condemn.

Well anyhow, I think we certainly need, as the author of article states, far more critical journalism -- but not just since Trump won the election. We needed it but didn't get it for decades. To understand why mature and educated people voted for Trump, you have to read the critical journalism of William Blum, foreign policy critic, on his website under his name. It's an enlightened point of view.

Add new comment