Journalists Look Awkward in the ‘Opposition Party’ … The opening days of Donald Trump’s presidency are forcing the traditional news media to choose between squarely reporting on the president and more directly challenging him when he makes statements that are demonstrably false. The strategic choice between a watchdog mission and an active opposition must be made mindfully. Otherwise the media will find itself tacking back and forth between objectivity and persuasion, an approach that could squander both aims.
This article makes the point that Donald Trump is forcing mainstream media to choose between reporting on the president without overt bias or challenging him when he says something they believe is false.
The media to a degree has been focusing on challenging Trump. But this involves making determinations that go beyond objectivity. This is something that Trump seemingly understands. Either he is a liar or those commenting on his positions are going to be represented fairly straightforwardly.
By presenting his facts his way, Trump is giving the mainstream media an unpalatable choice. Either it abandons its so-called objectivity, or it lets Trump make his points as he wishes to.
In American political culture, paradoxically, calling someone a liar doesn’t make it sound like you’re the truth-teller. It makes it sound like you’re engaged in a debate.
Of course, should the traditional media choose to go back and reassert its objectivity, that strategy has limits as well. It’s naive to believe that the Trump-supporting public will accept the newspapers’ version of objective truth in the face of Trump’s repeatedly asserted views. The president’s supporters will embrace their version of facts — “alternative facts,” as Trump spokeswoman Kellyanne Conway unforgettably put it.
This is something we have noticed ourselves. Newspapers in particular are becoming more and more opinionated. It has everything to do with Trump.
There is nothing wrong with opinionated media. Opinionated media’s heyday was actually pre-Civil War when everything was relatively opinionated. Publications had points of view and these points of view were reflected in every part of the paper.
Today, mainstream newspapers are having a hard time reporting on Trump without casting aspersions on his viewpoints. But these same publications are not stating that they have departed from their previous objectivity
Thus these newspapers are running articles that sound anti-Trump.
Aljazeera carries an article: “A Million Britons Want to Cancel Trump’s State Visit.”
One from the Guardian: “Theresa May Is Ahead of Trump in Undermining the Refugee System.”
And The Wall Street Journal: “Trump Immigration Ban Sows Chaos.”
These articles could certainly have been written more objectively though even objectivity itself is questionable. Objectivity itself has to have a touchstone. In other words, someone has to decide what is objective.
If you are writing a paper in Palestine, advocating the removal of at least some Jews might be seen as relatively objective. In the West, however, removal of at least some Jews from some parts of Palestine would be seen as something certainly other than objective.
Many have used the preoccupation with objectivity in the West as a way to denigrate the Western approach to reporting on the news. What is going on now is that even the pretense of objectivity has been removed. The lack of objectivity is now visible even to Western readers.
Trump has used this as a way to denigrate Western news. His perspective, shared by millions of Americans, is that presenting a point of view without stating is outright misleads the reader.
We’ve written in the past that the negativity of the press toward Trump is something he will have trouble overcoming. But this may prove to be an effective way of fighting back, and one he has adopted purposefully.
Given the way news has evolved since the Civil War, Trump is at least partially correct. Newspapers should probably inform readers if they are going mix editorial coverage with hitherto “objective” journalism.
Conclusion: But even the most “prestigious” newspapers are not doing this currently. As a result they are losing even more readers. This trend will continue until newspapers take some sort of definitive action. And even then it might not help much. Right now they are playing into Trump’s hands.