Trump, Clinton and the News Media

Nothing in their public careers suggests Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton has any desire for the kind of symbiotic relationship that traditional politicians nurture with the news media.

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Our next president openly loathes reporters.

It doesn’t matter who wins.

Nothing in their public careers suggests Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton has any desire for the kind of symbiotic relationship that traditional politicians nurture with the news media. 

They don’t schmooze. 

Clinton avoids the news media to the point where she shies away from holding press conferences, even when she could benefit from those confrontations. Granted, it’s self-serving, but the news media complain. Trump limits most of his encounters to insults and, on occasion, appearing to sanction physical confrontations between his followers and reporters/photographers.

Both are scarily thin-skinned; each is unnaturally defensive for public figures and devoid of candor.  

I have wise friends who insist that Clinton is not thin-skinned. They pointed out how she holds her own and then some in congressional hearings. No quarrel. But she is so quick to take offense duck questions and she often appears to turn what should be glancing blows into potentially damaging political injuries.

Some of her sensitivity inevitably arises from ways the news media described her responses to attacks on her husband. It has been vicious for decades and doesn’t stop. 

Nothing is too vile for the news media to pick up and repeat. She’s been accused of complicity in the death of friend and White House colleague Vince Foster and of aiding and abetting her husband’s philandering. Clinton also has been accused of attacking women who claim they’re Bill’s former sexual partners.

Think of her reaction to the New York Times discovery of her private email servers while she was secretary of state. Rather than point out that there was no evidence of her servers being hacked — as even the NSA’s computers were — she ducked and dodged until she created the impression in the news media that she had something to hide.

Clinton and Trump carry decades of resentments against the news media, made worse by calumnies on today’s toxic social media. Not all of it is paranoid fantasy — they’ve had decades of bad ink: Clinton in Little Rock, Ark. and Washington, D.C. law practice and politics; Trump in New York and New Jersey property/gambling deals.

A Clinton or Trump administration would remind of us of the Nixon years when reporters were included on “enemy lists.” 

Trump already has his, denying press credentials to reporters or news media that fail to fawn over him and threatening to sue journalists and news organization. 

USA TODAY’s Nick Penzenstadler looked at Trump’s litigation history and said Trump “vowed to sue multiple news organizations including The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post and USA TODAY. He didn’t follow through with any of those.”

It’s unlikely that any of those national publications flinched from what it felt was appropriate coverage, but less affluent news media might be intimidated. 

I don’t know if Clinton has an enemy list of reporters, but it’s been so long since she made herself available to the news media that it probably doesn’t matter.    

The irony is the news media’s role of promoting the validity of Trump as a candidate. News media overwhelmingly gave him unfailingly positive exposure unlike that provided to any other GOP aspirant. Even when stories and images captured Trump’s most extreme and bizarre statements, it was positive in that it reported what he wanted people to hear.  

A more serious problem than access will be the likelihood that a Trump or Clinton administration will be even less transparent and more hostile to probing journalists than Barack Obama’s. That’s not good for the news media and it’s corrosive to what remains of our representative government. 

All either candidate has to do to recreate open season on critical journalists is to relax or disembowel guidelines issued by Eric Holder when he was attorney general. 

In case you don’t remember, Holder’s DOJ obtained phone records of reporters to track down sources and used threats of prosecution in failed attempts to silence reporters and their papers/websites. 

During the primary season, the New York Times’ Jim Rutenberg cataloged some of Trump’s publicly hostile reactions to news stories he didn’t like. 

In June, Rutenberg wrote, “The all-but-confirmed standard-bearer of one of the United States’ two major political parties is actively stripping credentials from news organizations that report things that he deems unfair or inaccurate. He has a black list and, unlike the one that Nixon kept, this is not a secret.”

Martin Baron, The Washington Post’s executive editor, told Rutenberg there needs to be mutual respect between the media and the candidates and “in this instance, clearly no respect toward our role is being shown… Anybody who aspires to be president of the United States should exhibit behavior as a candidate that he or she would display as president of the United States.”

The idea of a presidential campaign, after all, is to give the public a sense of how a candidate will behave in office, Baron continued. 

Naturally, Trump disagreed with Rutenberg’s assertion that stripping credentials from out-of-favor reporters sends a chill on their investigative initiative.

“They send a chill by showing what a disgrace the media’s been,” Trump told him. Though Trump said his scraps with the media were not strategic, they played well with some of his supporters. “Some people think they don’t like it. Many people like it — they say, ‘They’re being punished for being dishonest.’ ’’

During the primaries, Trump suggested he would try to “open up” the nation’s libel laws to make it easier to sue. USA TODAY’s Penzenstadler rightly said, “That’s unlikely to happen because standards for libel have been set over decades based on the Constitution, Supreme Court rulings and state laws, and the president has limited authority or influence in those realms, but it’s still disconcerting.”

As Gene Policinski, senior vice president of the Newseum Institute’s First Amendment Center in Washington, D.C., told him, “We have a system that worked remarkably well to foster debate and discourse over 50 years. I think we tinker with that at our peril.”

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