Untitled design

Why the media is still struggling with how to cover Trump

JUDY WOODRUFF: Both President Trump and 
former Vice President Biden were originally   supposed to be debating tonight. But, as we know,   the Commission on Presidential Debates 
insisted on a virtual second debate online. Biden agreed, but Mr. Trump refused. Instead, both men are now 
participating in separate town halls   airing on two different broadcast 
television networks at the same time. Tonight's dueling town halls sparked fresh 
criticism about how the mainstream news media   are covering the election and whether 
or not they are being too deferential. Those concerns date back to 
the 2016 presidential election,   when then-candidate Donald Trump was given 
a disproportionate amount of airtime,   compared to his Democratic 
opponent, Hillary Clinton. Mr. Trump drew attention for many 
reasons, but Democrats and other critics   say his sheer shock and entertainment value, 
and the viewers they draw, higher ratings,   fueled lopsided coverage and let him float 
through the primaries without enough scrutiny. The Tyndall Report found that Mr. Trump 
alone accounted for more than twice the 2016   election coverage on the ABC, NBC, and CBS evening 
newscasts as did Hillary Clinton and her campaign. A New York Times analysis found he secured 
roughly the equivalent of $2 billion in free   media coverage during that campaign. That was more 
than 2.5 times the free coverage given to Clinton. DONALD TRUMP, President of the 
United States: The fake news media. JUDY WOODRUFF: The president's supporters and many 
conservative voters have long argued the press is   unfair to their candidate, a problem they say 
became much worse after Trump unexpectedly won. They argue much of the news media is 
obsessed with trying to take him down.   But many journalists say it is the president's own 
headline-making statements, insults, falsehoods,   and frequent distortion of the facts 
that precipitate such extensive coverage. DONALD TRUMP: When Mexico sends its 
people, they're not sending their best.   They're bringing drugs. They're 
bringing crime. They're rapists. JUDY WOODRUFF: A number of 
studies show that immigrants and   unauthorized residents do not 
commit crimes at higher rates. A new documentary titled "Enemies of 
the People" airing today on VICE TV   takes a closer look at how the news media 
covered the president in the last election   and sits down with news leaders, 
like CNN president Jeff Zucker. JEFF ZUCKER, President, CNN: Donald 
Trump would say outrageous things   or say things that weren't true, and it just 
became accepted, all, well, that's what he does. Not calling that out more for what it was, and 
then holding the other side more accountable,   that was probably a mistake. JUDY WOODRUFF: Another notable difference, a 
2017 analysis from The Columbia Journalism Review   found that coverage of Hillary 
Clinton's use of a private e-mail server   dominated mainstream news coverage more than 
any other topic during the 2016 election. This time, Republicans and some journalists 
say Joe Biden is the one not getting his   fair share of scrutiny. Voters have one 
last opportunity to watch the president   and the former vice president debate 
together one week from today in Nashville. Yet another story broke late today, adding to the 
controversy over the fall debates. Steve Scully,   who is the political editor at C-SPAN, who 
was supposed to moderate tonight's debate,   was suspended by C-SPAN for lying and 
saying his Twitter account was hacked. Scully made that claim last week after 
he exchanged messages with a former   Trump spokesman who is now opposed to 
President Trump. Scully apologized. But the president tweeted that — quote 
— he was right. He said the debate was   rigged and that the Trump campaign was not 
treated fairly by the Debates Commission. Let's take this moment to look at the 
news media's coverage of the campaign. James Fallows is a writer and author who 
wrote all about this for "The Atlantic."   And Susie Banikarim, she is the director and 
producer of the documentary we just mentioned.   She's the executive vice president at VICE News. And we welcome you to the "NewsHour." Jim Fallows, to you first. What do you make of the network's decision 
tonight? ABC had scheduled a town meeting with   Joe Biden. Then NBC scheduled a town meeting 
with President Trump at the exact same time. JAMES FALLOWS, National Correspondent, "The 
Atlantic Monthly": In my view, this was a very,   very serious misjudgment by NBC, which I think 
— I don't know what this will have any lasting   political significance, but I think it will 
be seen as a real miscalculation their part. The reason is, one of the lessons the 
news media, looking back four years ago,   was just their attraction to 
the spectacle of Donald Trump,   covering his rallies in 2015 onward. We have 
seen. We see it with the Coronavirus Task Force   briefings, et cetera, the coverage 
of the helicopter from Walter Reed. The only reason to run these events head to head   is for the spectacle value, see who's going to 
win the ratings battle, et cetera, et cetera. I think NBC could have given 
Donald Trump a time after   Joe Biden, the next day or whatever. So, I think 
this was an unfortunate judgment on their part. JUDY WOODRUFF: Susie Banikarim, what 
about that? I mean, you have worked   at the networks. You know how these decisions 
are made. What do you think has happened here? SUSIE BANIKARIM, Executive Vice 
President, VICE News: I mean,   look, I think this is incredibly 
disappointing, but it's not a surprise. What Trump's real skill is, is knowing how to draw 
attention away from a story that's not working for   him. So, he didn't do well in the first debate. 
He really didn't want to do the second debate,   and was getting criticized for that. And now 
all anybody's talking about is NBC and not   him and the things that aren't 
working in his campaign, right? And when NBC agrees to do this, they 
just play completely into his hands.   They let him control the 
narrative. And he's already   talking about how they're fake news on 
Twitter. So, it's also just disappointing   that they would give him this kind of opportunity 
to use them and also malign them at the same time. JUDY WOODRUFF: Which does raise 
the question, Jim Fallows. As we mentioned, there's so much criticism of   what the media did to enable Donald Trump 
in 2016. How do you see coverage this year? JAMES FALLOWS: I think that the two big 
problems I tried to write about in "The   Atlantic" from the previous cycle's coverage — 
one was this attraction to spectacle, as Susie   Banikarim was just saying and that you have — 
that you just were doing in the setup piece. The other was the — the difficulty of 
the media in dealing what I call with   bothsiderism. If one person is 
saying something that's true,   and somebody else is saying something 
that's simply beyond the realm of reality,   like that the U.S. is doing fine with the 
pandemic, et cetera, it is difficult for   the media to try to have our standard pose of 
centrism while having these two conflicting views. I think more of the media have been trying on 
this second front to deal with bothsiderism   than have been trying to resist the 
spectacle of Donald Trump. So I think   it is an evolutionary process. But, 
basically, I think Donald Trump has   played the media more than the media 
have been aware of being played. JUDY WOODRUFF: Susie Banikarim, what about that? I mean, it's something that all of us 
in the media struggle with, of course,   not wanting to take sides, 
wanting to cover fairly. But   you're covering a candidate the 
likes of which we have never seen. SUSIE BANIKARIM: Yes, I think there's just 
an incredible push to balance. It's just   naturally how we're taught to 
think about things as journalists. But the reality is, is, sometimes, two things are 
just not equal, and it's our job to contextualize   that for people and help them process it. And when 
we don't do that, when we sort of just give equal   weight to everything, they don't have any way of 
understanding that, at the same time as Trump is   saying that he wants Amy Coney Barrett confirmed 
so she can weigh in on the election if it goes to   the Supreme Court, that the media is spending a 
lot more time asking Biden about court packing. And those things aren't equal. They're really 
different issues and really different from   erosions of democracy. And when we play into that, 
when we sort of push to balance, just because we   don't know another way to seem objective, 
we're doing a disservice to the audience. JUDY WOODRUFF: And, Jim Fallows, 
talk for just a moment about,   what are the values that come into play here? I mean, there's no more equal time provision 
for television, for broadcast networks   to have to abide by. So what are the standards 
that journalists should be thinking about? JAMES FALLOWS: So, I think, back in the earlier 
days of journalism, when I was getting a start,   there were certain norms that we could 
expect politicians to operate within. There were, as you say, the legal 
requirements of the Fairness Doctrine,   where broadcast networks had to put on things 
from opposing parties. And most journalists   could assume that most politicians would try to 
avoid saying things that were provably untrue. As we move into different terrain where 
those norms don't apply in the same way,   I think there's a new movement that is necessarily 
under way in journalism to say, our two loyalties   should be to the process of democracy, democracy, 
small-D democracy, and to observable truth. And, sometimes, this puts us in a 
difficult position of saying we think   this side is saying something that is 
true, and this side is not. But our larger,   longer-term loyalty is — should be to democracy 
and to the truth, as we can best determine it. JUDY WOODRUFF: And, Susie Banikarim, 
that does take — as Jim is suggesting,   that does take journalists away from 
what many journalists were taught. And that is, you try to give as equal, as fair 
treatment and time to all candidates as you can. SUSIE BANIKARIM: Yes, but I think it's 
just time to evolve the thinking, right? There's a certain sort of pattern that we have 
established that Donald Trump just doesn't adhere   to, right? He's unwilling to adhere to these 
norms. And he uses them to manipulate the media. So, when you see that you're being played or 
manipulated, it's time to change the playbook   and adjust to what's happening. And, to some 
degree, I think what Donald Trump really took   advantage of in 2016 is that political journalism 
had become very akin to entertainment and had   become very sports-like. People just constantly 
talked about who was up and who was down. And if we just continue in that 
same pattern, we're going to just   continue to have elections where people 
aren't getting good information, right? And I think this is the moment, as we go into   what's going to be a very difficult election 
week, and where a lot of information is going   to be coming in, and we're going to have to be 
processing it and helping people understand it,   to really take a step back and ask, what is 
the role we play in making sure people get   the best information, the information they 
need to really assess things accurately? JUDY WOODRUFF: So, Jim Fallows, 
what is it that viewers,   consumers of news who care about this 
election, and want the best possible coverage,   what should they be demanding right now from 
the news media, and especially from television? JAMES FALLOWS: So, I think it'll be awkward for me 
to say this right at this moment, but I personally   appreciate the effort that your program makes 
to try to say — to represent different sides   and arguments, but to say, at this moment, we 
think certain sides are more grounded in reality. I think for readers, viewers, 
listeners, there is a tremendous array   of material available now. And I guess the 
main thing that the public can do is similar   to what we in the media can do, which is 
to try to avoid just the distraction of   the spectacle minute by minute by minute, that, 
if we find ourselves, as citizens or as reporters,   being in the mode of a cat chasing a laser 
dot, we're — it's exciting in that instant,   but we're not deciding about the 
things that matter in the long term. So there's a lot of material out there to 
listen to watch and to read, so seek it out. JUDY WOODRUFF: We're going to have to leave 
it there. And we thank you both so much. Jim Fallows, Susie Banikarim, we appreciate it. JAMES FALLOWS: Thank you, Judy. SUSIE BANIKARIM: Thank you.