Media struggles over how to address Trump’s antics
Over the last four months, one name has saturated all news outlets — Donald Trump. The President has been discussed incessantly on almost every talk show, late night show, news room, and news feed, rendering him inescapable. He infamously received $2 billion of free media during last year’s election, far more than his opponents did, including Hillary Clinton. Recently, some media juggernauts have been fighting this coverage trend by changing the topic altogether. But is that the ethical thing to do, especially in a democracy where the media plays such a crucial role?
A day ago, late night host John Oliver announced that his show’s new season will weigh less on the daily musings of President Trump and more on anything else he wishes to discuss. Oliver views it as a chance to focus his discussions on investigative journalism conducted by his team and on content that gets far less coverage time. This will certainly set Oliver apart because every other late night host is satirizing Trump’s actions, competing for the funniest monologue. Yet, it is also risky since Trump is all audiences seem to care about for the moment — Oliver’s viewers included.
Two years ago, The Huffington Post moved all news stories related to Trump to its entertainment section. Admittedly, this was far before he was seen as a serious contender for the White House. Nevertheless, it exemplified the media’s attempts to change the discussion.
Adding to the coverage boycott are publications that have nothing to do with politics. In its video series The Closer with Keith Olbermann, GQ Magazine routinely reprimands Trump. Last week, Olbermann advised journalists not to attend White House press briefings anymore, especially when Trump labels their organizations as fake news. It comes as no surprise that fashion magazines are commenting on politics in 2017. Everybody, including Meryl Streep, has joined the Trump conversation. It is because this election has arguably permeated the most lives, simplifying politics from what many perceived as economics, fiscal, and diplomatic jargon to right versus wrong.
Nonetheless, the media is pivotal in a true democracy. It may be ethically irresponsible to simply ignore Trump because we are tired of him. Instead, we must consider what makes the President such a hot topic.
Trump’s tendency to engage any person or organization that offends him adds fuel to the fire. He did so before he ascended to office, and he does so now. His petulant behavior disheartens many who view him as unpresidential, yet inspires his supporters who see his demeanor as anti-establishment. Trump’s unpredictable tirades even have positive effects for corporations. Trump’s latest tirade against Nordstrom Rack for dropping his daughter’s clothing line perplexingly increased the retailer’s stock by four percent, proving that Trump’s most minute actions have far-reaching effects.
Trump’s Twitter account is perplexing. Consider his decision to cancel a meeting with Mexico’s president Enrique Peña Nieto through a public tweet. Most recently, Trump used the official POTUS twitter account to retweet his own personal tweets, blurring the lines between his official and personal positions and showcasing his lack of experience and decorum.
Trump alone is not the deer in the headlights when it comes to presidential etiquette. His whole administration shares his lack of skill. People are baffled, amused, and irritated by Counselor to the President Kellyanne Conway’s ability to utter complete falsehoods so casually. People are frightened by Press Secretary Sean Spicer’s tendency to do the same on behalf of Trump in his indignant tone. Many more names, like Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, elicit just as much concern. This band of unorthodox appointees is easily scrutinized and satirized, so much so that they provide a never-ending stream content for the media, from CNN to Saturday Night Live, for the foreseeable future.
Is it possible for the media to completely ignore the most powerful position in the free world when it is so unpredictable? Trump’s actions are intertwined in events across the globe, from causing casualties in Yemen to offending prime ministers in Australia. His elected officials and their rushed policies affect the well-being of American citizens and permanent residents. The media, as well as the public, are simply fascinated by Trump. Until this fascination dissipates, not much will change.
Trump’s dominant presence in the news may not be as unusual as we think. After all, he is still within his first hundred days in office. In retrospect, new presidents are always initially a spectacle. We analyze their judgement, scrutinize their policies, and delve into their personal lives. Consider the fanfare that surrounded the young and promising John F. Kennedy during his 1960 campaign and after his election. Recall the exhilaration and excitement that came with the appointment of the first African-American Commander in Chief, Barack Obama. In 2009, Robert J. Samuelson of The Washington Post wrote an op-ed titled “The Media’s Infatuation with President Obama,” saying “the Obama infatuation is a great unreported story of our time,” stating that it “is not healthy for America.” Samuelson’s views on Obama, although not shared by many at the time, do resonate with what is being said about Trump today.
Ignoring Trump is thus idealistic. The now-infamous travel ban, for example, should be on every American’s mind. The nomination of his Secretary of Education who is unaware of the “growth versus proficiency” debate should bother every student, guardian, and faculty member. The silencing of environmental agencies should concern us all. The list continues and is increasingly disheartening, and it is the job of the media to cover it all. This coverage is not unusual for a new president, but things are different this time around — the world-wide protests week after week, the polls indicating he is the most unfavored president in the history of polling, and his two million popular vote defeat all speak to that deviation from the norm.
For as long as Trump occupies the most influential office in the world, he will be media worthy. For as long as his administration attempts to undermine the role of the media in a democracy, the media will have to fight back with transparent coverage.