Donald Trump, of course, is the most recent president to join the fray. His ongoing feud with the news media has been in the spotlight for much of his first year of his presidency. We often see combative exchanges during his press conferences or other times when he is addressing the media. He labeled the news media as being perpetrators of “fake news.”
Flash back to George Washington’s presidency and you’ll find that he sometimes had a frosty relationship with the press corps. It was reported that he canceled his subscriptions to a number of newspapers because he was irked by their reporting.
Even President James Madison, the author of the First Amendment which guarantees the freedom of the press, was upset by the way newspapers criticized his handling of the War of 1812.
The list goes on and on. I remember when CBS anchor Dan Rather, then a White House correspondent, frequently clashed with President Nixon. President Obama wasn’t spared from criticism, as well.
As a former journalist, I’ve been following Trump’s relationship with the media with much interest. Generally, I am on the side of the news media. Reporters have a right to question our leaders.
There are some who believe that President Trump genuinely despises the news media. Matt Lauer of the “Today” show disagrees with that theory. He believes that President Trump’s bombastic outbursts are done intentionally to please his supporters. Lauer said he has had a number of interviews with Trump in the past, and that the president has been cooperative.
I can understand how someone can become frustrated with reporters constantly shouting questions at them. But when you hold the nation’s highest office, reporters are going to be asking tough questions. It comes with the territory. Presidents know that they are always under scrutiny by the news media.
However, I’m also dismayed how sometimes the news media can be disrespectful — even to the president of the United States. I recently watched one of President Trump’s impromptu press conferences in which he was being interrupted while answering a reporter’s question.
Another time, I watched a national TV newsperson interview a Trump cabinet member. The TV interviewer kept interrupting the Trump administration member before he could complete his answer. I’ve been seeing this occur a lot lately.
Reporters shouldn’t be afraid to ask the tough questions, but they also should respect the people who they are interviewing.
When I was working in Texas, my publisher gave me a piece of advice that I carried with me for the rest of my newspaper career. He told me that newspaper editors and reporters should treat people who are subjects of news stories the same way they would want to be treated themselves. In other words, be respectful.
The news media does seem to be more under fire these days. It is no wonder because of all the news outlets these days, and the proliferation of social media. Reporters want to top each other.
The poor relationship between the president and the White House press corps doesn’t take away from the importance the news media has in our democracy. We need solid reporting to keep us abreast of what is going on in the world, especially if there are wrongdoings by our leaders.
While the news media has been getting a bad rap, there are some good things being done. The Grand Haven Tribune is a good example. Last week, the newspaper published an outstanding series of stories on the opioid crisis that has been gripping our nation. Producing such a powerful series is no easy task for a small newspaper. Newsroom staffers have to carry on their regular assignments, as well as taking on special projects. It’s not easy, but they know it is important to inform our community of key social issues.
The news media will continue to spar with presidents, but let’s hope that sparring becomes more civil.
Both the role of the president and of the news media is important. We need to do a better job of showing respect to each other.
— By Len Painter, Tribune community columnist