The Media Today

How should the press cover Trump rallies?

August 3, 2018

On Tuesday, the president was in Tampa. He spent Thursday evening in Wilkes-Barre. On Saturday, he’ll stand in front of an adoring crowd in Delaware County, Ohio. As the midterm campaigns enter the home stretch, Donald Trump is hosting a series of rallies around the country, and as November approaches, we’ll see even more on his schedule. The prevalence of these events, their repetition, and Trump’s propensity for lies raise a question for journalists that had once seemed settled: when the president speaks, is it really news?

The beats of a Trump rally are numbingly familiar to those who have followed him closely since the presidential campaign. Attacks on Democratic lawmakers (last night in PA, it was their senator, “Sleeping Bob” Casey) flow into recitations of Trump’s accomplishments, media bashing, and a relitigation of the 2016 election. Reporters tweet the comments, and cable news either plays clips or covers the whole event live.

The rambling nature of Trump’s rallies, of course, inevitably gives way to lies. Recently, The Washington Post updated its database of the president’s comments, finding that, since taking office, he has made 4,229 false or misleading statements. Over the past two months, the frequency of those falsehoods has increased dramatically, clocking in at nearly 7.6 claims a day.

RELATED: A climate of hate toward the press at Trump rallies

The press can’t completely disregard his words, but as the repetitive roadshow rolls on, newsrooms can cover them with scrutiny. In some ways, the press has already made adjustments: though Fox News still regularly carries rallies in their entirety, gone are the days when every cable network broadcast them in full—by returning to studio, reporters are able to add a dose of reality and jump into a discussion of the administration’s policies.

One option for networks that decide to air Trump’s events—or portions of them—live is to use the familiar banner on the bottom of the screen—the chyron—to provide analysis. Paul Farhi wrote this week in the Post that “chyrons began to evolve as real-time fact-checks during Trump’s 2016 campaign speeches—but more recently as a means to lift a rhetorical eyebrow over some questionable presidential statement or dramatic development.” If television newsrooms assigned a rapid-response team to cover Trump’s words, the chyron could become an even more powerful tool.

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Below, more on a Trump’s rallies and the way they’re covered.

  • Spotlight on media bashing: “Thundering that the media is the ‘fake, fake disgusting news,’ President Donald Trump unleashed a torrent of grievances Thursday at a Pennsylvania campaign rally in which he cast journalists as his true political opponent,” write the AP’s Jonathan Lemire and Jill Colvin.
  • “The enemy of the people”: Press Secretary Sarah Sanders refused to disagree with her boss, making it clear on Thursday that the view of the press as the enemy of the people is official White House policy. Earlier in the day, Ivanka Trump told Axios’s Mike Allen that she did not hold this position.
  • A different approach: Last month, Vox’s Ezra Klein criticized the way the press has allowed Trump to become its “assignment editor.” He told CNN’s Brian Stelter that important stories fall by the wayside when reporters rush to cover Trump whenever he hits the road, arguing that previous presidents never received this kind of wall-to-wall attention. “What are we crowding out when we let him decide what we cover, every time he does a rally?” Klein asked.


Other notable stories

  • For The Guardian, Elisa Gabbert takes on the issue of compassion fatigue in the era of the 24-hour news cycle. “We have never been more aware of the appalling events that occur around the world every day,” she writes. “But in the face of so much horror, is there a danger that we become numb to the headlines—and does it matter if we do?”
  • NRATV, the television network run by the National Rifle Association, has not been able to renew its media liability insurance and may be forced to shutter its operations due to a pressure campaign by New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, reports The Trace.
  • “We face a staggering array of foreign policy challenges today: climate change, extremism, epidemics, increasing inequality, threats of nuclear war, and cyber-attacks,” write Elmira Bayrasli and Elizabeth Radin for CJR. “Yet, somehow, we continue to underutilize a valuable resource to address these challenges: women.” They note that women’s voices are particularly scarce on op-ed pages, which serve as a forum to shape policy and influence public opinion.
  • The Daily Beast’s Lachlan Markay, Asawin Suebsaeng, and Dean Sterling Jones report that The National Enquirer, led by Trump pal David Pecker, has pulled back from its active boosting of the president. “According to multiple sources familiar with the situation, Pecker and the Enquirer’s top brass made a conscious decision to pull back on their pro-Trump coverage, just as Pecker’s media empire found itself increasingly embroiled in Trumpworld’s legal and public-relations woes,” they write.
  • Three Russian journalists were killed in the Central African Republic on Monday. They were in the country to report on the Wagner Group, “a private military force reportedly financed by Yevgeny Prigozhin, a Russian oligarch colloquially known as ‘Putin’s Chef’ because of his catering businesses and close ties to the Russian president.” For CJR, Jack Crosbie reports on the murky circumstances of their murders.
  • Fox News personalities Gregg Jarrett and Jeanine Pirro claimed the top two spots on The New York Times nonfiction bestsellers list. President Trump has boosted both through his tweets.
  • More outlets should run pieces like this: The New York Times’s Matt Flegenheimer explains what terms like “off-the-record” and “on background” mean, and why journalists might abide by them. With trust in the press in question, these sort of pieces help clear up misconceptions and open the process to those who don’t understand the jargon.
  • After publishing a white poet’s attempt to take on the voice of a homeless black person begging for handouts, The Nation sparked a major controversy in the poetry world, pulled the poem, and issued an apology for its “serious mistake.” The New York Times’s Jennifer Schuessler has an overview of the backlash.

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Pete Vernon is a former CJR staff writer. Follow him on Twitter @ByPeteVernon.