Even though the press coverage of Trump frustrates me at times, I also recognize and believe that Trump poses unique challenges to the press, challenges that aren’t easy to overcome. Ideally, I should take the time to write a more organized post, listing and describing some of these challenges. However, I just saw a tweet that made me think of one of these challenges, and I want to comment on this before I forget. Here’s the tweet:
"The White House has spent the last seven months lying to not only reporters, but the American people because they have said the President did not consider firing (Mueller). … It was not on his mind at all," says CNN's Kaitlan Collins https://t.co/Z2qLFwbbUy
— CNN Tonight (@CNNTonight) January 26, 2018
REMEMBER: Trump, his lawyer John Dowd and his top adviser Kellyanne Conway ALL DENIED last August that Trump ever considered firing Mueller. (NYT just reported that Trump ordered Mueller's firing in June.) pic.twitter.com/Li49ecCYSa
— Marshall Cohen (@MarshallCohen) January 26, 2018
Here’s the challenge I see: Trump and his administration not only lie a lot, but the nature of their lies seems egregious in a unique way, making things up, including falsely accusing Democrats and the press. Others have remarked the lies resemble the type found in autocracies. To me, this warrants treating Trump in a different way from other presidents, as I don’t believe other presidents have egregiously crossed a line. However, I believe doing this would make journalists incredibly squeamish, regardless if this is justified. Why? Because treating Trump differently, as if his lying makes him different, makes him more like a dictator than a POTUS, would make them feel like hyperbolic partisans. (Read: unreasonable individuals incapable of being fair or objective.) No journalists wants to act in a way that makes them appear like these people. Trump supporters would accuse them of bias, and these journalists would feel totally defenseless against these charges. They could try to justify their position, but that justification would essentially be a “but his lies are different” argument, which is essentially the type of thing that partisan extremists would say. “But this time, Trump is really different! We’re really being fair and objective,” they might say, but I suspect journalists would know this would sound feeble and unpersuasive.
For these reasons (and maybe others), journalists gravitate back towards an approach that treats Trump like previous presidents. That is, they try to forget about how egregious the lies are, how often they occur, moving them closer to a place where they give the benefit of the doubt to Trump. I feel like the following tweet supports this, at least to some degree:
Asked why it took seven months for this to come out, @maggieNYT, who broke the story, says, “I’m a little surprised at how effective people in the White House were at lying to us…”
— Kaitlan Collins (@kaitlancollins) January 26, 2018
I feel like a smart journalist like Haberman–who has known Trump for a long time–can only be surprised if she subconsciously minimizes and attempts to forget that Trump has zero credibility and consistently behaves with bad faith. If journalists knew a colleague, stockbroker, or friend who behaved like Trump, there would be no surprise at the effectiveness of the lies because the lies wouldn’t be effective. But journalists covering Trump is a different domain than the interactions that journalists have with others outside of their work. The rules regarding earning the trust of the public, the professional standards and professional pride–all good things–creates a barrier to covering someone like Trump, a shameless liar, conspiracy theorist, con man. I’m not sure about the journalists should respond, but I’ll try to propose suggestions later.