(This is a dry run for a new project I’m pursuing that involves a daily critique of American political journalism. Please let me know what you think — and who else’s critiques you would value. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
The coverage of the two fundamentally dishonest events the White House staged back-to-back on Thursday afternoon provides a case study in how top political reporters in America’s most elite newsrooms are still failing to appropriately cover Donald Trump.
Both events made it incumbent upon journalists to explain what was really going on, and put it in its essential and abnormal context, rather than just hand over the megaphone, take notes, and get punked, as they did to such disastrous effect during the 2016 election.
The good news is: They’re doing better. The bad news is: There’s still a lot of room for improvement.
And the hopeful news is: Perhaps some best practices can emerge if we examine their work closely.
Let’s review what happened Thursday.
For one, Trump invited an extraordinary collection of far-right hysterics and disinformation-spreaders to what was billed as a “social media summit” — ostensibly to highlight anti-conservative bias – thereby validating and encouraging their extremism, while at the same time delivering an unhinged monologue in which among other things he both attacked and misconstrued the First Amendment.
Then, he tried to spin his backing down on the politically-motivated addition of a citizenship question to the U.S. Census as a victory, with a sycophantic attorney general at his side, congratulating him on his greatness.
No even vaguely sentient political reporter in America fell for any of this. But how much did they call it out?
The Associated Press coverage was marvelously forthright and assertive, giving no credence to the White House spin, from its headline — Trump applauds far-right social media provocateurs – on down. Reporters Kevin Freking and Marcy Gordon wrote in their top: