Critical Thinking

How Much Press Should Journalists Give Former President Donald Trump Now That He’s Out of Office?

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Dylan Miettinen, 22, senior, University of Minnesota—Twin Cities, Minneapolis, Minn.

Miettinen is triple majoring in journalism, English, and sociology of law, criminology and deviance. He is the current editor-in-chief of the Minnesota Daily, the university’s independent, student-run newspaper and has interned with CNN, the Minnesota Reformer and MinnPost.  

For four years, every word uttered, action taken, and tweet sent by Donald Trump dictated the day’s media coverage. I hope that changes, though I am unsure whether journalists will have much of a choice; once a reality star president, always a reality star president. Whether Trump migrates back to reality television, joins the ranks of conservative talk show radio hosts or starts his own news network, he seems unlikely to fade into the (relative) obscurity of a private citizen that the past two presidents largely have.

Those erratic, erroneous tweets that we’ve become all too accustomed to? I don’t think they should appear above the fold. But I anticipate retrospective journalism to blossom, with deeper dives into Trump’s finances, pandemic response and relationships to Russia, among other stories. Reporters, however, must provide the Biden administration with the same critical scrutiny and the same in-depth coverage as the preceding one.

Trumpism will far outlive the Trump presidency and to ignore that fact—to be lulled into a sense of complacency and “normalcy” that a Biden administration may seem to indicate—would be a grave mistake for news organizations. Covering a real-world caricature like Trump is easy, but I hope journalists opt to push themselves to do the harder work of self-reflecting and acknowledging (and correcting) the distrust of the media that Trump sowed.

Journalists have done a better job of covering those who helped elect Trump in the first place, and I hope they don’t think the value of covering those communities is lost without him at the helm. I also worry that communities already left behind in newsrooms and coverage — Black, Latinx, queer and immigrant communities, among others—may be further alienated if the news industry goes back to “the status quo.” It is imperative that journalists have real, hard and necessary conversations about language (calling a spade a spade and a liar a liar), recognize the harsh limitations of “objectivity” and work to accurately reflect the communities they serve. 

Greg Johnson, 52, managing editor, Gillette (Wyo.) News Record

Johnson has served as managing editor since 2014 and is a 29-year journalist who has edited daily and weekly publications in Colorado, Alaska and Wyoming.  

That newsroom leaders are even contemplating this question is a little concerning for our already struggling industry.

While we would be hard-pressed to find another presidential administration that has been more damaging and threatening to the First Amendment and America’s free press, allowing President Donald Trump’s relentless attack on the Fourth Estate to influence how we do our jobs would be more devastating.

The simple and obvious answer is we treat Trump as any other public figure and cover what’s newsworthy. With his history of baseless and outright wrong claims, leaving office doesn’t diminish Trump’s ability to skew a large segment of public opinion and perception. Allowing it to continue without a free press to fact check isn’t an acceptable alternative.

The challenge is not allowing bias against or for Trump to cloud our news judgment in reporting on newsworthy events. Nor should we pander to any particular slant on how our readers consume and interpret the news, despite increasing social media pressure to do so.

As president, Trump has made plenty of news and as a former president is likely to continue to be a newsmaker. Striking that balance of how much weight to give his sometimes outlandish and baseless claims is going to be an evolving challenge.

On one hand, allocating too many resources and attention to storylines that push agendas more than report news can cause even more distrust and derision of the press. Ignoring them altogether poses the same risk.

When I saw this question, the first analogy that came to mind is an infection.

If a person develops an infection, not giving it any attention and ignoring it only allows it to fester, grow and become a larger problem. But without proper medical treatment, too much prodding, poking, scratching and rubbing can potentially spread the infection and also make it worse.

In this scenario, journalism is the closest thing we have to that proper treatment.

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Doris Booth

Thank you, Dylan and Greg, for your thoughtful and balanced views on Trump coverage, and for your faith in the importance of reasoned journalism in our society. Both sides of every issue should be carefully examined with the goal of informing the public. As Dylan says, journalists must not be lulled into a sense of normalcy but must do the hard work of reporting. Politicizing what should be news (as opposed to opinion) can further erode trust in our noble profession.

Thanks, also, to E&P for being brave enough to cover all sides.

Friday, February 5
T'Pau

A journalists doesn't "give" coverage "to" a subject. Rather the factual information is given to the readers. That is the core issue that needs to be addressed. As a journalists, should you really predetermine the future that which is not yet revealed?

Friday, February 5
Philip Moore

>>...It is imperative that journalists have real, hard and necessary conversations about language (calling a spade a spade and a liar a liar), recognize the harsh limitations of “objectivity” and work to accurately reflect the communities they serve...<<

I am a little troubled by the ease in which the author stepped over the line from journalism to advocacy. Objectivity is not simply a journalistic convention. It is the foundation of empirical knowledge, upon which all sciences and social sciences rely for validity. While it has become fashionable in academic circles to dismiss the value of positivist certainty in favor of a constructivist relativism, whereby truth is simply viewed as opinion, "reflecting the communities they serve," we go down this road at our peril, since it ends in a Hobbesian authoritarianism, where might, alone, determines who and what is right.

The value of journalism is in avoiding assumptions of truth and falsehood, seeking instead to fully and fairly relate those assertions of fact which may be learned from others, to inform the electorate, which may not be omniscient, but as asserted by John Milton nearly four centuries ago, with the guidance of objective reporting, may be permitted to make a reasoned effort at choosing what is right.

Friday, February 5