Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Now That He's Won, Will Trump's Relationship With The Media Evolve?


And it is hard to remember a relationship with the media as strained as the one Donald Trump had during the course of this campaign, and now Donald Trump will be president of the United States. Let's talk about the relationship we expect him to have with the media going forward. NPR's media correspondent David Folkenflik is on the line.

David, good morning.

DAVID FOLKENFLIK, BYLINE: Good morning, David.

GREENE: Just tell me how strained that relationship was. I mean this was - I mean at Donald Trump rallies, he would often begin by just making nasty comments about the reporters who were following him around, right?

FOLKENFLIK: You know, it's been a thread in, particularly, Republican politics to take potshots at the press for about for about a half-century, but let me just say this is a really unprecedented moment for the press. It's going to have to figure out how to negotiate a relationship with a guy who, as you say, has attacked news organizations but also individual reporters by name, who has threatened to sue The New York Times for libel, who's said that he would go after Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon, but also individually the owner of The Washington Post because he was upset with the reporting of that newspaper. You know, and has argued for a loosening of the libel laws to make it easier to win verdicts against news organizations. This is somebody who, you know, stands in some ways, at least rhetorically, against the values of what news organizations and what journalism stands for. This is just going to be a new figure and a new way of looking at things, at least if the campaign is a guide.

GREENE: And we should say much of what you're talking about - the very strained relationship with the press, the attacking them at times - are things that Donald Trump supporters seem to really like. I mean they drew them to the candidate.

FOLKENFLIK: Yeah. You know, look, it's hard to look at any one individual supporter and say that represents the campaign, but Trump has time and time again, you know, essentially encouraged at rallies a hostility toward the press, pointing at them saying, you know - basically trying to shame them to the degree that in some instances individual reporters were hustled out of sites from security agents or from the - by the Secret Service itself. You know, that's a degree of antagonism that we simply haven't seen. If you think about in the past, certainly Joe McCarthy, you know, somebody who used to inveigh against the press as a regular element of his campaign against Communists and the Red Scare in the 1950s. He also used to go for drinks with journalists, basically indicating it's all a show, and there's a way in which that may be the case with Donald Trump. After all, he wouldn't have the hundred-percent name recognition he had during this race if not for his role as a fixture, as a media star in reality shows and that bled over into news programming, you know, during the 2000s in particular. But I've got to say that, you know, it's not clear how this antagonism will manifest itself, and that's something that the press is going to have to think hard about.

GREENE: And I guess it - I mean it's worth saying that the news media believes that they play this enormously important role when it comes to covering, I mean, any government, but covering an institution like the White House to hold a president accountable, to ask tough questions, to hold a president's feet to the fire - do you really believe those important roles in democracy are at risk here, or is it possible that once Donald Trump settles in as president this might kind of go back to the way we have seen in the past?

FOLKENFLIK: Well, so there are two ways of thinking about this, one of which is the press. You know, this is not only an unprecedented moment in terms of the president-elect but an utterly unexpected one especially by the press. Both the punditry and the pollsters just simply got this wrong, right? And so they're going to have to figure out if he's somebody that they're going to provide skeptical but not cynical coverage - which is kind of the model they publicly espouse - are they going to be adversarial but not hostile, or are they going to, in a moment of great tectonic shift both financially and in terms of the model of the press, become more oppositional?

It's worth noting that even if you put the questions of partisanship against the press aside, some of the values that the press has that transcends party, you know, in terms of civil liberties, in terms of transparency but that they tend to embrace, are at odds with at least the rhetoric of Donald Trump so what do they do to hold him accountable? Or, are they relying on the fact that it is certainly been shown over the years that Trump doesn't always believe everything he says or doesn't intend to do everything that comes out of his mouth? Are they relying on, to a degree, an element of insincerity in what he's put forth to the American people? And the answer is we don't know and the press doesn't know, and I think the press has to be very humble going forward about what it does know and what it doesn't.

GREENE: OK. Talking to NPR's media correspondent, David Folkenflik, about Donald Trump's relationship with the media. David, thanks, as always.

FOLKENFLIK: You bet. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

David Folkenflik was described by Geraldo Rivera of Fox News as "a really weak-kneed, backstabbing, sweaty-palmed reporter." Others have been kinder. The Columbia Journalism Review, for example, once gave him a "laurel" for reporting that immediately led the U.S. military to institute safety measures for journalists in Baghdad.
KUER is listener-supported public radio. Support this work by making a donation today.