Newspaper article MinnPost.com

The Media, Trump, and the 'Normal Standards' of Journalism

Newspaper article MinnPost.com

The Media, Trump, and the 'Normal Standards' of Journalism

Article excerpt

As of Friday, there are 88 days to go until the election. Almost three months. Which in the 2016 media environment translates to a minimum of 8,800 news cycles, most of them devoted to/obsessed with Donald Trump. Trump Obsession Syndrome, already a national mental health concern, could easily metastasize into something fatal.

Three points of reference on today's radar scan. In The New York Times, media columnist Jim Rutenberg (David Carr's replacement) published a column Thursday, "Trump is Testing the Norms of Objectivity in Journalism."

Setting the piece up, he writes, "If you view a Trump presidency as something that's potentially dangerous, then your reporting is going to reflect that. You would move closer than you've ever been to being oppositional. That's uncomfortable and uncharted territory for every mainstream, non--opinion journalist I've ever known, and by normal standards, untenable. But the question that everyone is grappling with is: Do normal standards apply? And if they don't, what should take their place?"

The difficulty of covering a presidential candidate who -- let's just say it, shall we? -- displays an unprecedented, flagrant and routine indifference to civility, facts and forthrightness has been on journalists' mind since Trump's gilded escalator descent 14 months ago. To apply "normal standards" to Trump reporting, which would mean avoiding descriptors and characterizations like, well, "flagrant and routine indifference ..." is to fail in the primary function of journalism, namely providing your audience with as complete and accurate a description of events as possible.

Therein lies the dilemma for "normal standards," which are heavily influenced by -- wait for it -- the long tradition of covering normal candidates playing by well understood standards. Crackpots and chronic prevaricators are a familiar feature of American politics (and human nature). But journalists have never before dealt with one nominated by a major political party for President of the United States, and a lot of us remember Richard Nixon.

I couldn't help but wonder where our old friend Mr. Carr would have gone with the same column. He once conceded, when asked, that as biting and provocative as he was often described, he was very conscious of playing within boundaries set down by the Times. There were decades of tradition that he had no interest in challenging in any revolutionary way.

In the end, Rutenberg settles for a survey of spokespeople and media beard--strokers noting and lamenting everything any sentient reader can see, before concluding that the Times and The Washington Post certainly are performing nobly and aggressively in a turbulent landscape.

Says Rutenberg, "It may not always seem fair to Mr. Trump or his supporters. But journalism shouldn't measure itself against any one campaign's definition of fairness. It is journalism's job to be true to the readers and viewers, and true to the facts, in a way that will stand up to history's judgment. To do anything less would be untenable."

Well, he asked the question, at least.

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Also making news is NBC News-/MSNBC reporter Katy Tur, a fast-- rising media star for her non-stop coverage of Trump. In a piece for the tony, internationally--scented women's magazine Marie Claire, Tur walks us through, "My Crazy Year with Trump," including how Secret Service personnel escorted her from a Trump event after the candidate (again) singled her out for being a lousy, dishonest reporter and the crowd turned ugly.

Befitting the venue, Tur's piece is peppered with references to her global life-style, (now-ex-) French boyfriend, "bright" London flat and difficulties getting her hair dry and re--accessorizing her wardrobe -- a pair of Jimmy Choos to make her feel "powerful" -- for her incessant round of live--shots. (Foof withstanding, she doing quite a good job.)

At one point, she writes, "Timothy Crouse got a lot right in The Boys on the Bus, arguably the most famous book about the campaign trail. …

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