We started this “While He Was Tweeting” series of posts to draw attention to some of the “accomplishments” of the Trump administration that may have been missed while we, journalists and the public, are distracted by POTUS’s fusillade of tweets.
But it doesn’t have to be this way. The Columbia Journalism Review’s Karl Pope argues that the very last thing journalists should be reporting on is Trump’s faux war against the media. The media, Pope says, should remember that they don’t have to cede the media agenda to anyone. “We control the airtime, we decide who gets quoted and how, we set the rules of engagement. The daily White House press briefings outlived their usefulness months ago. Now it’s time to reassess how we cover Trump and ourselves.”
It’s understandable, Pope says, for the media to want to make sure that they have a defense to the onslaught coming out of the White House. But by being shocked anew at each egregious statement or throw down by Trump, he contends that the press comes out on the losing side. Why?
Pulling back from our own self-reflection and focusing all of that attention where it properly belongs — on our childlike, possibly unstable national leader and the wrenching national policy changes he is stumbling to put into place — could, ironically, also be the thing that convinces the rest of the country to pay attention to the dangers inherent in Trump’s attacks on the media and the First Amendment.
Every time Trump fires a shot in his war against the media, there’s an opportunity for a more serious, nuanced argument about why everyone benefits from a free and vigorous press: Airing a president and his policies to open discussion and scrutiny results in better government. Squashing those things, or seeking to discredit the scrutiny before it even happens, neutralizes a key check against power baked into our Constitution. Dialing up the outrage meter every time Trump attacks CNN, The Washington Post or The New York Times gets us no closer to that important debate, which is just fine for a president who has very little else to offer.
For that fuller portrait to emerge, we, the press, need to get the hell out of the picture.
Read the full article at the Columbia Journalism Review and Pope’s open letter from the US press corps to Trump on the eve of the inauguration in which he lays out the rules by which the press corps will deal with a recalcitrant administration.
Read more installments in our series “While He Was Tweeting” — keeping an eye on Trump’s wrecking ball.