December 5, 2016

Norman Soloman, Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting  -Euphemism isn’t journalism, but conflating the two can be irresistible for mainline journalists when candor might seem overly intrepid. Two months before Inauguration Day, a straw in the US media wind pointed toward evasive fog around the incoming president when PBS NewsHour anchor Judy Woodruff convened a roundtable segment (11/21/16) with program regulars Tamara Keith of NPR and Amy Walter of the Cook Political Report.

From the outset, the journalists emphasized that the new president won’t be “traditional.” Walter said: “We have to stop treating Donald Trump like this is just a traditional, normal political candidate who’s now going to be a traditional, normal president.”

Moments later Keith, a White House correspondent for NPR, was explaining that Trump “has not related to the press or the public in a traditional way ever. And he’s had an incredible skill at distracting, at creating—there was this movie Up and there was a dog who gets distracted, and, squirrel, squirrel. That’s what happens.”

As happens so often, top-of-the-line political journalists marveled at Trump’s ability to create distractions while they kept themselves—and their audience—distracted from substantive matters. As Keith immediately demonstrated:
Every time there is a story that is not favorable to him, like settling the Trump University lawsuit for $25 million, suddenly there is a Twitter fight. Meanwhile, he has skillfully avoided sort of the type of environment that a press conference creates, the environment where you get asked a question, and then somebody else asks a question, then somebody else asks a question, it builds on it, and you really can’t escape. There’s nothing like a press conference.And his transition team is saying, well, you know, don’t tell him what’s traditional and what’s conventional. This is Donald Trump.
The way Keith veered away after a mention of an actual issue—like the Trump University fraud settlement—to focus on Trump’s stagecraft is, unfortunately, how Beltway journalism typically treats a “traditional, normal president.” When Woodruff commented that Trump is “keeping us on the edge of our seats,” Walter responded: “And he loves doing that. Remember, this is a candidate who said, I like being unpredictable.” From there, Walter was soon back to how untraditional Trump is:
So, this isn’t surprising to me at all that he’s continuing this as president. I think this is what we learned during the course of the campaign is that just, every day, we would come in and we would say, well, maybe now is the time that he’s going to pivot. Maybe now he’s going to look more like a traditional candidate.

That just is not going to happen. And so as he’s parading these people through, you can argue that he’s bringing a lot of different faces and voices, but the people that he’s picked are the people we should be focusing on.
But somehow the seven-and-a-half minute segment never got around to focusing. When the discussion went through the motions of covering the ground of Trump’s major appointees and nominees at that point—Steve Bannon, Jeff Sessions and Mike Pompeo got brief mentions—there wasn’t the slightest indication that in total they had backgrounds inclusive of racism, anti-immigrant fervor, extreme hostility to Muslims, antisemitism and support for torture.


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