The election of Donald Trump is a blessing to the media, an industry wracked by customer doubt and dropping revenues. A Gallup poll last September showed only 14% of Americans have “a great deal” of trust the news media “to report the news fully, accurately and fairly.” Add the 18% who have “a fair amount” of trust and you still have only a third of the country’s trust.
Considering how mean and petty most news operations were to President Trump during the campaign, most of that distrust is among his 63 million voters.
His presidency gives the media the chance to re-gain those people.
All the media need do is treat Donald Trump the same way they treated Barack Obama when he became president in 2008.
Remember? Magazines and newspapers issued special commemorative issues. The broadcast networks aired specials and tributes to the historic president. Electing the first black president was an occasion for national celebration. Even at Fox News, the word was out to give him a chance.
Instead of celebrating another historic occasion – the election of the first truly outsider president – news organizations have gone out of their way to continue being mean and petty.
For example, a week after Trump’s election, the New York Times led a chorus of news outlets that reported the Trump transition team was in chaos, after Vice President Mike Pence took the reins from Governor Chris Christie.
“President-elect Donald J. Trump’s transition was in disarray on Tuesday, marked by firings, infighting and revelations that American allies were blindly dialing in to Trump Tower to try to reach the soon-to-be-leader of the free world,” the Times reported.
But the transition went smoothly. Trump appointed a Cabinet of competent men and women. And from Day One, the new president began issuing the edicts he promised in his campaign that he would deliver.
Meanwhile, there is chaos at the New York Times, where layoffs have begun, and management is moving sections of the staff from the New York Times Building, as the newspaper plans to rent out another eight stories of the building to outsiders, as it seeks to offset the loss of ad revenue.
The Fake News of chaos in the transition team was only the first of many lost opportunities to reach out to disenchanted readers and viewers.
Major media outlets are based on the liberal fringes of a conservative nation – Washington, New York, and Los Angeles – and are staffed by people who either never lived in the nation’s interior, or who fled because they did not like the place where they grew up.
Last summer, the Columbia Journalism Review published a column urging reporters to abandon even the pretense of objectivity to stop Trump.
“The declining audience for traditional news is well documented and creates twin pressures,” wrote David Mindich in a July 15 column.
“First, the desperation for audience share—an estimated 80 million viewers tuned into the networks’ coverage of McCarthy’s hearings about the Army following Murrow’s show. These are ratings numbers that the networks cannot replicate now.
“Second, networks cannot replicate the influence that Murrow, Cronkite, and others had—on Election Day (November 8), we will be eager for signs to see if today’s journalists pushing back against Trump actually stop him.”
Well, they couldn’t stop him.
Of the newspapers that endorsed in the election, 243 went for Hillary Clinton and 20 went for Trump. If newspapers had any influence, it would have been a 50-state shutout for her. Instead it was a 30-state sweep for him.
Rather than give wise counsel to the profession on restoring its integrity, Columbia Journalism Review editor Kyle Pope urged the news media to double down on the stupid. Pope published an open letter to the president on January 17 to protest Trump’s plan to treat the media as poorly in his presidency as the media treated him in the election.
“It will come as no surprise to you that we see the relationship as strained,” Pope wrote.
“Reports over the last few days that your press secretary is considering pulling news media offices out of the White House are the latest in a pattern of behavior that has persisted throughout the campaign: You’ve banned news organizations from covering you.
“You’ve taken to Twitter to taunt and threaten individual reporters and encouraged your supporters to do the same. You’ve advocated for looser libel laws and threatened numerous lawsuits of your own, none of which has materialized. You’ve avoided the press when you could and flouted the norms of pool reporting and regular press conferences. You’ve ridiculed a reporter who wrote something you didn’t like because he has a disability.”
Instead of giving sober advice to an industry that needs adult guidance, Pope played to the crowd of reporters who believe they have constitutional license to treat a duly elected president like a second-class citizen.
Pope should have told reporters to knock off the anti-Trump tweets, to stop looking for trouble where there is none, and to start playing the game straight. For until news organizations do, they will be laying off workers and trying to rent out more office space to make ends meet.
Don Surber retired after nearly four decades as a newsman. He lives in Poca, West Virginia, and is the author of “Trump the Press,” which covered the 2016 Republican nomination process. In February, he will publish its sequel, “Trump the Establishment,” which covers the general election.