Bankole: Media must be on guard in Trump era
One of the most important features of the presidency of Donald Trump will be how the media covers his administration on a range of issues including campaign promises he plans to pursue as policies.
Given that Trump has repeatedly shown his distaste for the media despite the reported billions in free advertising he received during his campaign, it will be incumbent on journalists tasked with reporting about the new political dispensation to be on guard.
A perfect example of the challenge ahead is Trump’s tweets shortly after the election criticizing The New York Times coverage of him, and others claiming the mass protests against the election results had been ignited by the press.
For the president-elect to make such unfounded assertions on a social media platform about the press underscores the level of disdain he has for the media.
And it possibly foreshadows the looming adversarial relationship set to take place between the media and Trump after he is sworn in on Jan. 20.
“Covering Trump’s presidency will be a unique challenge for the mainstream media. He is a new kind of president — angry, resentful and unafraid to challenge facts as the invention of far-off elites. The media has a responsibility and an opportunity to set the record straight,” writes Brett Edkins, who covers media and business for Forbes magazine.
Trump is used to creating his own set of assertions that he claims to be factual and it will be left to the media to clearly state the facts as they are.
An example of this is when he claimed on Nov. 17 that Ford Motor Co. decided not to move a Lincoln plant in Kentucky to Mexico because he persuaded the company not to do so. The problem is that Ford had no plans of moving that particular plant anywhere in the first place.
But Trump was taking credit for a decision that was never made and in the eyes of his supporters he came out looking like a hero. In their eyes, he was already doing the job they elected him for before he is even sworn in to formally start his duties as the 45th president.
In this case it was the responsibility of the media to call out such a misstatement of the facts and to explain what actually transpired. Yet, very few media outlets ran the correct story that Ford was only planning to move a production line out of the Kentucky plant.
Fact checking the Trump administration will be one of the biggest challenges of the media because he has millions of followers on Twitter and they take his messages as gospel.
No amount of facts and reality based analyses about the issues of the day can divorce them from seeing through some of the made-up facts the president-elect feels he can comfortably and freely tweet.
Like in the Ford Motor Co. plant issue, thousands of Trump’s supporters retweeted his comments as a mark of approval. And Trump, I suspect, will continue to tweet whatever he believes will give him credit and earn the praise of his backers.
All the more reason why the media that really failed to take his candidacy seriously in its infancy needs to be vigorous this time around in clearly reporting what the people need to know.
The theory that president-elect Trump is the creation of the media is not far-fetched. It is true. Because many people wondered why at the initial stages of his campaign, the networks covered most of his rallies as prime time events, disadvantaging the other GOP primary candidates and giving the New York billionaire unprecedented coverage.
But now that he is about to occupy the most powerful office in the world and become the face of America, the media cannot sit on its hands and stand by like spectators or students waiting for instructions.
The job of the media should be to be unrelenting in covering the new administration and the issues they plan to champion.
After all, one of the most cherished ideals of this democracy is the exercise of a free and independent press to doggedly tell the truth and expose falsehood.
No matter how Trump feels about the media, the fourth estate did not die the day he got elected.
If anything it should be ready now more than ever because the next four years will prove to be the most consequential in recent American history. And the media cannot be a footnote — but a decider — in telling the difference between fact and fiction.
Bankole Thompson is the host of “Redline with Bankole Thompson” on Super Station 910AM weekdays at noon. His column appears Mondays and Thursdays.