Trump and the media: a win win reality show?

article image

Donald Trump and the US media may still be at war after the president's first 100 days but both sides are also reaping benefits from the hostilities between the former reality TV star and what he calls the “fake news” industry.

Trump's decision to snub this weekend's White House Correspondents' Dinner has underlined how little love is lost between the president and “the opposition” - as his top advisor Steve Bannon has dubbed the media.

But analysts say that while Trump uses the press as a foil to deflect bad news, media outlets are getting a lift from consumers looking for credible information about his administration - or simply tuning in for a dose of the daily Trump show.

“Trump has been gold for the mainstream media,” says Tobe Berkovitz, a former political consultant who is now a communications professor at Boston University.

Berkovitz says Trump has “a handy devil he can blame for all his stumbles,” and as a result, “both sides are pretty happy with each other.”

Newspapers such as the New York Times have seen a significant bounce in circulation since Trump's victory last November and cable news networks have also enjoyed a ratings rise. 

“You can attribute a lot of that to Donald Trump," said Dan Kennedy, a Northeastern University journalism professor, said there is more interest in news because it is a time of “great anxiety.”

A key question for the media is whether the bump in ratings and subscriptions is temporary or indicative of a trend.

“It may end up being more sustainable than we might think even if Trump goes away,” said Kennedy.

“There is so much concern over fake news, and the garbage that is shared on Facebook,” he added. “We are seeing a flight to quality.”

“A bit of a show”

The apparent bad blood between Trump and the Washington press corps stands in stark contrast with relations under his predecessor Barack Obama who was a regular turn at the annual correspondents' dinner.

Trump regularly refers to the New York Times as a “failing” newspaper and often has digs at traditional cable networks.

But he has nevertheless granted interviews to nearly all the mainstream media and some pundits say the seeming animosity is not all that it appears.

“It's more than a little bit of a show,” says Kennedy.

Trump, he said, “turns around and calls a lot of the reporters that he excoriates publicly.”

Politico reporters Ben Schreckinger and Hadas Gold, who interviewed more than three dozen members of the White House press corps, wrote that Trump is engaged in a “fake war” on the press and that the president's staff works to maintain relationships with journalists.

Former White House press secretary Ari Fleischer, who worked for president George W. Bush, says Trump appears to help himself politically by vilifying the media, in which trust is at historic lows.

“Donald Trump strikes a chord when he takes the press on,” Fleischer told a recent symposium at the Newseum in Washington.

Charlie Spiering, a reporter at the pro-Trump Breitbart News, told the same forum that the mainstream press is an easy target.

Spiering said Trump's bashing of news outlets isn't “to denigrate the press,” but because “it was popular among his base - his base loves those taglines.”

Deeper problems

Nevertheless, the short-term lift from Trump may be the harbinger of longer problems, says Jeff Jarvis, a City University of New York journalism professor.

“If it's bad for democracy, it's bad for the press,” Jarvis said.

“He's attacking our credibility, attacking our trust.”

Reporter Jim Acosta of CNN - whom Trump singled out as "fake news” in his first press conference after his election - has similar worries.

“When he leaves office, we need Republicans to believe what is being said in the mainstream press just as much as we need Democrats to,” Acosta told the Newseum event.

A Pew Research Center survey released this month found 83 percent of respondents said the relationship between Trump and the media is “unhealthy” and 73 percent said the tensions hinder public access to important political news.

A separate Gallup survey found 37 percent of Americans felt the news media was “not tough enough” on Trump while 32 percent said it was “too tough.” Only one in four said the press had struck a good balance.

All rights reserved, Doha Centre for Media Freedom 2017

Designed and developed by Media Plus Jordan