How to cover a president like Trump
By Nate Becwar
Lying politicians aren’t new.
Journalists are used to scrutinizing every word elected officials say. Politicians spin their performances to soften the blow of their failures and to boost their accomplishments. To some degree, they never stop campaigning.
In 1973, Richard Nixon famously stated, “I am not a crook,” and denied his involvement in the Watergate scandal. Bill Clinton, 25 years later, in a public address, lied about his affair with Monica Lewinsky.
When Donald J. Trump threw his red hat into the ring as a Republican candidate for the 2016 presidential election, the American political terrain began to change. On the campaign trail and on Twitter, Trump began hurling insults and unsubstantiated claims.
After Trump was elected on Nov. 8, 2016, his unorthodox behavior continued.
In the first three months of his presidency, he has claimed Trump Tower was wiretapped during his campaign by then-President Barack Obama, the crowd at his inauguration was the largest ever and the murder rate in America is the highest it’s been in 47 years. These statements, among many others he’s made, are false.
What separates Trump from his predecessors is the volume of lies. PolitiFact, a website that evaluates the accuracy of elected official’s statements, has rated 69 percent of President Trump’s statements as false.
All this misdirection makes reporting on Trump’s presidency difficult. His election caught much of America on its heels, and there has been a sharp learning curve for journalists covering his bizarre presidency.
Although he does not assign editors to report on the president, Lincoln Journal Star City Editor Todd Henrichs said the challenges of covering America’s top executive are not dissimilar from covering state congressional leaders.
“Today, because of the political climate, there is a tendency by the public to view everything in a different light,” he said. “The same story we wrote 15 years ago may now be viewed as being not factual.”
Journalists who cover President Trump have to remind themselves of the important duties of the fourth estate. They need to be assertive and sift through the firehose of misinformation to find a real story.
“Editors have to be at the top of our game,” Henrichs said. “We’ve got to provide stories that are complete, accurate and well-sourced. It’s a bigger challenge today than it was in the past.”
Henrichs said since the news cycle is now instantaneous, demand for news is instant. This puts a larger demand on a reporter in a time where public skepticism is at its highest.
Trump’s attacks on the media have compounded an already difficult task. He consistently works to diminish the media’s reputation by labeling any negative story as fake news.
“What I think about a lot is how journalists are being viewed,” Henrichs said. “For a long time, the vast majority viewed journalists positively. We weren’t predisposed to question everything in an article. Now we question everything.”
Further, Trump’s lying inflames partisan tension as his supporters rush to defend him and his detractors cry treason. Voters are left picking sides like it’s a football game rather than tailoring their opinion to the many shades of American politics. The nuanced middle disappears — just like the truth.