Andrew Ryan looks at the American media's changing relationship with the office of the President.
It’s been quite a busy few weeks in the presidency of Donald Trump. There has been the implementation, and then cancellation, of the ‘Muslim ban’. There has been Trump’s alarming cancellation of environmental grants and promising to cut environmental regulations by 75%, as well as a tragically botched raid on an al-Qaeda compound in Yemen, and so much more.
However, the ever-present element of his presidency has been his ongoing war with the media. He has labelled CNN as “false news”, named many media outlets as “dishonest media” and, more recently, accused the media of not reporting up to 78 terrorist attacks. Of course, that turned out to be false.
Trump’s turbulent relationship with the media has not just come to the fore since he was elected. In fact, while on the campaign trail, Trump threatened to “open up” American libel laws in order to make it easier to sue members of the media.
Firstly, that threat is quite worrying as a possible attempt to quell opposition views. Secondly, however, there is no American federal libel law anyway.
Not only has this relationship between the president and press changed how the President of the United States of America deals with the media, but it has also seen the press itself change how it deals with the President.
Since Trump’s inauguration, the press has made an attempt to fight back against his many allegations. Recently on CNN, Jake Tapper roasted Kelly-Anne Conway on Trump’s claim that the media was not reporting the 78 terrorist attacks. Tapper would go as far as asking her if those killed in attacks committed by non-Islamic terrorists, such as in Quebec, are any less dead than those killed in attacks by Islamic terrorists after noting that many attacks committed by non-Islamic terrorists were not on the list issued by the White House.
CNN has been joined by the likes of the New York Times in defending themselves from Trump’s false accusations. Not only that, but the press has opted to fact-check claims made by Trump rather than simply reporting said claims, which would have been the case with presidents in the past. Examples of this can be seen in how the Trump administration has spoken about his inauguration crowd. Trump and his press secretary, Sean Spicer, have both claimed that his crowd was the largest in history, which the New York Times reported as false.
There is also the infamous example of a CNN presenter reacting in disbelief at Kelly-Anne Conway’s famous “alternative facts” statement. Then there is the example of the Bowling Green Massacre gaffe which was debunked almost as soon as Conway (again!) said it.
The early stages of Trump’s presidency has seen a drastic change in how the news press operates. Whether it is down to the press feeling insulted by Trump and wanting to hold him to account or not, news media’s reporting on Trump and his administration’s claims are no longer being treated with the neutrality as has previously been the case.
There are problems that come with this change in practice. With an increased focus on reporting the Trump administration’s false claims, the press has been distracted from some other issues and decisions that have been made by the President of the United States.
However, at the same time, it is important to hold those in power to account. After all, considering how many of the policy promises that Trump made on the campaign trail were based on falsehoods, it is increasingly vital that the press act as fact-checkers. If journalists simply reported claims made by the Donald, then his false claim that the murder rate in the United States is the highest it has been in 47 years would be taken as gospel.
Trump’s ongoing feud with the media is something that will remain a part of his presidency for the remainder of his time in the White House. It is a fascinating scenario to watch unfold, as how the press reacts to the falsehoods being spread by the White House is sure to shape the future of journalistic practise.