On November 15, David Smith, the Washington bureau chief for The Guardian, stood among Trump supporters under the Gilded Age chandeliers and gold-leaf ceiling of a Mar-a-Lago ballroom. The ornate fixtures, Smith noted, dwarfed the man helming the room’s center stage.
Writing for The Guardian later that night, Smith recalled that Donald Trump, announcing his run for the presidency behind a podium adorned with his maga slogan, appeared an “ousted dictator, drained of power and surrounded by a dwindling band of loyalists in his last redoubt.” Many in the media similarly reported a lackluster atmosphere and an uninspired Trump, whose splintered Republican base—the fissure deepened by midterm losses and legal controversies—might be intensifying the nation’s “Trump fatigue.”
The media quickly latched on to this notion; the deflated evening at Mar-a-Lago and Trump’s tired campaign announcement created a neat news package. It’s less clear, however, how the media should continue covering the former president as he vies for another term, an issue Smith discussed with Kyle Pope, editor and publisher of the Columbia Journalism Review, on The Kicker.
“He’s a former president, a significant political figure with a huge base, so he should be covered. But on the other hand, he’s a carnival barker and deliberately manipulated the media,” Smith told Pope.
Trump’s attack on the press has matured into “a sealed logical paradigm,” according to Smith. His “fake news” rhetoric isn’t likely to relent. And with Twitter CEO Elon Musk’s recent welcoming of Trump back to the platform, it’s possible his social media tirades will resume with full force this campaign season.
In this Kicker episode, Smith offers coping strategies for journalists covering Trump in 2023. He calls for more instantaneous fact-checking of Trump’s statements, for less coverage of his tweets, and for wrap-around contextualization of his quotes in news stories—a technique he calls “sandwiching.”
Smith speaks with authority. He witnessed the meteoric success of Trump’s first presidential campaign. He reported from Trump headquarters on election night in 2016. Later, he led The Guardian’s coverage of the Trump administration and his 2020 campaign. Now Smith is prepared to see another Trump story through to what he speculated will finally be its conclusion.