The Puzzles In Covering Trump: How The Media Approach His Campaign
MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
Now we're going to go back to a subject we've talked about before, which is Donald Trump and how he continues to rewrite the modern playbook for a presidential campaign. He's doing this in all kinds of ways. But right now we want to focus on the challenge his campaign is posing to those in the media who are trying to cover him.
Every week, there are new reports that the Trump campaign is refusing to grant some journalists and some media organizations credentials. And journalists who do get into events with the general public face the issue of how to report on violence that's erupted between protesters and rally-goers. And then there is the way that Donald Trump tends to characterize the media. Here he is giving a speech after winning Florida and North Carolina in last Tuesday's primaries.
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DONALD TRUMP: By the end - if you get to the end, you can handle a lot of things, including pressure. That I can tell you because there's nothing like it - lies, deceit, viciousness, disgusting reporters, horrible people.
TRUMP: Sure, some are nice. Some are nice. Some really disgusting people back there though, I think.
MARTIN: With all this, we felt it was time to call back a panel of editors to talk about coverage of the Trump campaign. So we're joined once again by Susan Glasser, editor of Politico, which is, as the name implies, is dedicated to covering politics. Welcome back.
SUSAN GLASSER: Thank you so much for having me.
MARTIN: Ryan Grim is Washington bureau chief of The Huffing Post. Welcome back to you as well.
RYAN GRIM: It's great to be here.
MARTIN: And NPR's own editorial director Michael Oreskes. He's also senior vice president of news. Thank you once again for walking down the hall...
MICHAEL ORESKES, BYLINE: Great to be here.
MARTIN: ...And join us. I wanted to start out by asking if it is true, as has been reported, that a number of publications and specific journalists have been banned from covering Trump events. Susan Glasser, is that true?
GLASSER: Unfortunately, yes. It just happened to my news organization this week. The clip that you played from Donald Trump calling journalists disgusting - he was actually referring in many ways to one of our reporters, Ben Schrekinger. Just about an hour or two after that, his spokesperson put out a statement - used the same very personal, nasty language to describe Ben and denied him access to the Mar-a-Lago estate where Trump was having his victory press conference, despite having credentialed Ben earlier.
In fact, that very morning, Ben was one of three bylines on a very hard-hitting story that Politico had published looking at the background and actions of Corey Lewandowski, the Trump campaign manager. And it seems that there was clearly a connection between those two events. Now, this campaign has been very aggressive and has previously threatened several times to withhold our reporters credentials. But remember, this has happened not only to Politico but to many other news organization throughout the course of this campaign. It's a very unusual tactic.
MARTIN: Ryan, I want to ask you the same thing. I mean, The Huffington Post, which is a left-leaning web-based news outlet, has been very clear in its opinion of Donald Trump as a candidate. Has that had any repercussions for you in the way you try to cover him?
GRIM: Back in December, our Iowa reporter Samantha-Jo Roth, who had been going to Trump events as a credentialed reporter, was told by a Trump staffer that she was no longer going to be credentialed. And they - and since then, we haven't been credentialed for anything. And when we attend his rallies, it's as part of the general public.
So whenever our reporters do that, and if they're asked if they're a reporter, then they will say yes, I am a reporter. And in fact, Samantha-Jo herself has been pulled out of lines in the past for having a backpack with, like, camera equipment in it. So - and they don't even know she's Huffington Post when they're doing that. They're just - they're looking for anybody who might be somewhat affiliated with something that they're not controlling.
MARTIN: Michael, has NPR managed to continue to hold onto its credentials?
ORESKES: We have, but clearly it's become both dangerous and unsafe to be a journalist at these events. And the Trump people have clearly contributed to that.
MARTIN: Have reporters been jostled...
MARTIN: ...Manhandled, hit?
ORESKES: There's the incident with Michelle Fields, which is quite remarkable. Actually - she's a well-known reporter actually for Breitbart, a conservative news site that was not just conservative but quite openly Trump supporter. The candidate himself appears to have acknowledged her and was about to answer question when she was yanked back by a member of the staff. It's not acceptable to operate that way in this country.
MARTIN: All of my guests are nodding at this. Has this had implications for the way you think about this? Michael, you want to start?
ORESKES: Yeah, well, I mean, we're very concerned about the overall environment around the campaign now. As you know, Michel, we had a group of political reporters in and decided to devote a couple of hours to training for dealing with dangerous or possibly hostile environments.
MARTIN: Susan, you were going to say something about this. Has that incident been a game-changer for you in terms of how you think about the situation that your reporters are under and how you support them in the field?
GLASSER: Unfortunately, I don't think it was a game-changer for the media at large and how they're covering Trump. And the flipside to this is Trump's extraordinary access to all the television networks. And in extraordinary fashion, he's giving his own spin now after these series of debates in a way that I've never seen happen. He's calling into programs that say that they don't interview anybody except in person. And he somehow is able to call in week after week. And I think that when the calm-and-collected record of the campaign and its coverage by the media is assessed, I don't think that the television networks are going to come out particularly well in this one.
MARTIN: Ryan, what about you? Do you have some thoughts about this because your coverage is not dependent upon access to the candidate?
GRIM: Right. But there's a huge collective action problem. But there's also a solution...
MARTIN: What do you mean by that? There's a collective - what does that mean?
GRIM: So in other words, collectively there aren't - it's not like you're trying to organize a thousand different people here. There are only a few networks. And the networks could get together and say look, we're going to cover this like we always have for the last 50 years. And then Donald Trump's oxygen goes away.
You know, he desperately, desperately craves the media attention and particularly craves the TV attention. The rest of it he doesn't care about, which is why he's fine to dismiss the Huffington Post, Politico, NPR probably. But if he feels like his access to TV is threatened, you might see him change his behavior.
MARTIN: I can imagine that some people are listening to our conversation and they might think that's a shame, but that's for you and your industry to work out for yourselves. It has nothing do with me and the public. And I'd like to ask each of you if you think that - why it matters. Ryan, do you want to start?
GRIM: Sure. I mean, democracies don't really, you know, carry on and reproduce themselves based on rules and regulations. They do so on the basis of norms. And it's up to the public to enforce those norms. Without the media being a fair arbiter of that, then the public doesn't have much of an outlet.
MARTIN: Susan, does this matter to the public?
GLASSER: Look, I think it's a great question and it's an important question. You have now a Republican front-runner who is really challenging core principles of how freedom of speech works in the country and what our thresholds are for the balance of power between politicians and the press. And he's actually putting that into practice it seems to me in how he's running his campaign.
ORESKES: I couldn't agree more. Independent information is essential for a democracy to actually work. And we're witnessing an effort through bullying and intimidation to cut down on the available independent information.
MARTIN: That's NPR's own editorial director Michael Oreskes. He's also senior vice president of news. Susan Glasser, editor of Politico, which is, as the name implies, dedicated to covering politics. Ryan Grim is Washington bureau chief of The Huffington Post. And they were all kind enough to gather here in our Washington, D.C., studios. Thank you all so much for speaking with us again.
GRIM: Thanks for having me, Michel.
GLASSER: Thank you.
ORESKES: Thanks for doing this, Michel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.