Most news consumers will be surprised when they learn that Trump flat-out lied when he gloated on Sunday morning that ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi died "whimpering". That’s because their news sources were too timid to express the appropriate amount of skepticism and horror.
Fact-checking has had huge practical and symbolic value. But as it’s currently practiced at the national level, it feels a bit quaint. Political journalism needs to find a better solution to calling out misinformation and disinformation – and soon.
The role of race and racism in American politics has always been significant. These days, it is central to the political divide in our country. Understanding and being able to explain its complexities is essential to cover this moment coherently. And yet the gaze of our elite American newsrooms remains intractably white and male. So they fail.
Great political journalism requires the courage to state the obvious. Sadly, our access-dependent, approval-seeking, risk-averse, group-thinking elite Washington press corps often doesn’t have the guts. You don't get to the top of the political-journalism universe by offending important sources and making your bosses nervous.
The Trump presidency has exposed a slew of major problems that Washington needs to address legislatively. Chief among them: the flawed political and electoral system that gave him the presidency; and the vast range of unchecked powers that have been granted to the American presidency. Our elite political media needs to start identifying the wreckage Trump has made of our norms and institutions and engaging in an exploration of how we can fix it.
Liberal, conservative, moderate, populist, pragmatic – are the old political labels really meaningful anymore? What we need are labels for the significant distinctions that exist along a number of different axes between political groups in this day and age. And we need to stop abusing the ones we use now.
The granting of anonymity in political journalism has always been a source of confusion and concern. But the dynamics are even more fraught when the White House is awash in chaos, misdirection, and lies.
Are reporters getting valuable information in return for the anonymity they grant? And what should they do when the people to whom they have granted anonymity lie to them?
How reporters go about interviewing voters, where they go, who they talk to, what they presuppose, and most importantly what questions they ask can make the difference between the stuff of parody and the best kind of political journalism. The key to doing it right is to explore not just voters’ political opinions, but their formative moments and their value systems.
The press – and the truth – are under siege like never before. But political journalists don’t have to take it sitting down. They can actively defend their core values, which include honest governance and an informed electorate. Here’s a look at some of the ways they could do that.
Donald Trump embodies the values of reality TV: That life is zero-sum; that if you're not winning you're losing; that the best response to any controversy is to heighten the conflict; and that "reality resets with every tweet or click of the remote." It's allowed him to dominate the political narrative, while reporters are reduced to reviewing the show.
Politicians have long recognized that the political media is susceptible to gaming. The trade’s vulnerabilities are well known: Political reporters are irresistibly drawn to conflict, are suckers for spectacle, are desperate for attention, and are easily bored. But no one has ever played it like Donald Trump.
The political press corps in Washington cannot abide asymmetry. But when one party starts to espouse extremist views that are based neither in reality nor in the core values of an increasingly diverse United States, staying impartial – typically a journalistic virtue – results in a journalistic failure:
The debate over whether Donald Trump is racist or not has been an absurd distraction from reality, which is that he has been stirring up the most virulent strain of anti-immigration hysteria there is: he’s not only asserting an invasion by dangerous people with dark skin, he’s saying it poses an existential crisis to white America.