TIME FOR A NEW APPROACH
NEW MEDIA MANIFESTO FOR COVERING TRUMP
Americans need a credible and fearless media now more than ever. An independent media that would save America from what Justice David Souter described as ‘pervasive civic ignorance’ that could lead to the death of our democracy.
The 2016 elections has brought Justice Souter’s prophetic warning into perspective when America elected Donald J. Trump president. Trump exploited fear of immigrants, a perception that the country was riddled with crime and headed in the wrong direction to rally his base, and he presented himself as the only one who can “fix it.”
As unbelievable and improbable as it is, the reality is Trump is the US President, the most powerful human on earth. He is also a serial and compulsive liar. And it appears he cannot help it. I repeat, you cannot trust a word that comes out of the President’s mouth. You have to fact check him all the time or throw your hands up in the air in despair and ignore his constant barrage of lies.
Trump lies over everything, big or small, whether the truth is obvious or not and it’s well documented. He has no sense of shame. Look at this lie for example. He doesn’t care if you know he’s lying. He just throws it out there and let his supporters defend him. Trump’s Twitter is littered with numerous such falsehoods but he is our President.
Below are just a few examples from his Twitter account.
Terrible! Just found out that Obama had my "wires tapped" in Trump Tower just before the victory. Nothing found. This is McCarthyism!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 4, 2017
How low has President Obama gone to tapp my phones during the very sacred election process. This is Nixon/Watergate. Bad (or sick) guy!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 4, 2017
In addition to winning the Electoral College in a landslide, I won the popular vote if you deduct the millions of people who voted illegally
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 27, 2016
His team of
advisers enablers such as White House Counsel Kellyanne Conway is no better. They cover-up his lies with more lies, defend unethical acts, promote false false equivalencies, blaming former President Barack Obama and the worst thing is they don’t even seem to care if they are caught. There are internal problems with embarrassing leaks from aides coming out every day. This is perhaps the most unorganized White House in recent memory and it does not look they are trying to get better.
Where does the American public stand with Trump’s lies?
Trump’s lies matter because of many reasons but the main one is because the leadership of the free world is vested in his person. A person carrying such responsibility must have integrity, intelligence and clear judgement. Trump appears to have none of these qualities. And he does not seem interested in developing the skills.
You can blame the supporters who voted him in but it won’t help, they still support him and like the fact that he is using ill-advised executive orders that have spun the country into division, chaos and confusion to keep campaign promises that does nothing to improve American lives. But, why dwell on his supporters’ likes or dislikes, we are where we are and we must accept and deal with it accordingly and decisively.
To deal with Trump, the media must radically change tactics. Trump is not like any other president we have ever seen. In fact, he is not like any human we encounter every day. He is erratic, impulsive, unorthodox and brash. Dealing with such a personality requires a lot of strategic preparation and so far the media, especially TV, has not figured out an effective way of dealing with him.
WHAT THE MEDIA MUST DO TO HOLD TRUMP ACCOUNTABLE
Do not underrate Trump
As much as Trump appears not be conventionally smart in the normal definition and perception of being politically smart, Trump is actually very smart and crafty in a unique way. He get’s his way in almost every situation including some very tough ones such as possibly avoiding to pay taxes for 18 years after declaring a loss of almost $1 billion. Such maneuvers require some serious level of smarts that the average person does not possess. His will to achieve his goals by any means and persistence makes up for his deficits in political savvy and more. He is persuasive and he understands how to survive by following the letter of the law and find loopholes where he can get away with stuff. So do not expect Trump to be bogged down with things like ethics. The court is his playground as noted by this USA Today report. Trump, while many constitutional experts have assumed is in violation of emoluments clause because of his business conflicts, he seems to be getting away with it. While it’s traditional for Presidents and presidential candidates to release their tax returns, Trump has refused using flimsy reasons that nobody believes but he doesn’t care what we think as long as he gets his way.
Focus on big issues
The media, especially cable TV has been tabloidized and is easily distracted with the latest sensational story, Trump tweet or outrage and losing focus of more important topics that deserve serious in-depth coverage. To cover Trump effectively, the impulse to cover the latest outrage must cease. For example, despite more than five hundred thousand signatures in a petition demanding Trump to release his full tax returns, he has refused. This is a serious story with significant and quantifiable human interest and the media is not doing a good job pursuing.
Trump’s tax returns are important because they give Americans a snapshot of the president’s assets and liabilities. But it seems the media has given up on chasing the story or seeking other ways to release the returns in public interest. Trump’s refusal to release his tax returns amid suspicions that he has ties to Russian oligarchs, who have financed his business ventures is very troubling. According to experts, the only way to prove he is not conflicted is by releasing his full tax returns and the public is demanding it. The media needs to do a better job educating the people why disclosures such as tax returns are important in a democracy and this should be done daily. What is he hiding? We cannot find out if we don’t persist in pursuing the story.
By releasing his tax returns, Trump will allay fears that he is being blackmailed by among others Russia’s President Vladimir Putin. He will also inoculate himself from future blackmail because his financial assets and liabilities will be in public. By refusing to release his taxes or divest from his vast business interests, Trump is putting his personal interest ahead of national interest and the best interests of more than 300 million Americans. A man like that does not deserve to be in the Oval Office.
Focus more on the Russian connection
As Mother Jones’ David Corn noted in an article Feb. 9, the Trump-Russia connection was the biggest 2016 election scandal the media ignored. Allegations of Trump being compromised with Russia are well documented. One of the most puzzling phenomenon about Trump is his almost slavish devotion to Putin. Trump is on record tweeting and trading hostilities with The Australian Prime Minister, Mexico’s president, NATO, China, The Pope, a Gold Star mother among others, but he can never bring himself to say a negative word against Putin. What does Putin have on him? Naked photos? Financial ties? Embarrassing video of him doing the kind of things he confessed to doing in the Access Hollywood video? What is it?
The self-proclaimed counter-puncher and tough-talker-in-chief who many times punches first and down, has made every effort to avoid antagonizing Russia, yet he has shown very little restraint in antagonizing the NATO alliance, a long standing allied group that assures our security and that of our European allies who keep Russia in check.
Here the media has failed spectacularly in her role as the fourth estate charged with keeping those in power in check and citizens informed. What happened to the congressional intelligence committee investigations charged with investigating this troubling story? How come we have not heard anything from the committee? Who have they talked to and what have they found out so far? Nobody knows, because the media is focused on the latest Trump outrage and mis-direction.
With reports from our intelligence agencies stating Russia interfered with our elections to help Trump get elected, the media should be all over this story.
And this is why.
Let’s pretend that Trump is compromised and everything or some significant portions of this dossier is true. And he is indeed a Russian agent or as his former rival Hillary Clinton called him Putin’s puppet, imagine the damage he could do to our national secrets as president to prevent being exposed? Afterall he gets all the top-notch daily intelligence briefings, he has the powers to appoint people to crucial and sensitive positions in the government including our intelligence apparatus. What stops him from sharing our top secrets about our nuclear weaponry or ongoing military research to Russia? What would stop him from helping Russian agents burrow themselves within our government and compromise our national security for years?
I’m not suggesting that Trump is a traitor to America, I’m merely stating that is the perception some people are getting judging from his lovefest with Putin. Only him can allay those fears and assure Americans once and for all.
We have to remember that Russia is not America’s friend and nothing reminds us of that more starkly than the recent finding by our intelligence organs that Russia hacked the 2016 elections to help elect Trump. Why would they do that? Could it be because they know Trump’s weakness they can manipulate to their advantage? Trump’s overtures and appeasement to Putin should be met with a lot of indignation and skepticism and the media should never lose sight of this despite any distractions thrown their way.
The Trump-Russia connection must be investigated daily and thoroughly and any conflicts uncovered and shared with the public. If Trump is found to have colluded with Russians to circumvent American laws or manipulate the elections he should be impeached and removed from power.
Because of Trump’s bizarre devotion to Putin and Secretary of State’s Rex Tillerson’s and National Security Adviser Michael Flynn close connection to Russia, the Trump administration lacks the credibility to strike any deals with Russia without the risk of appearing to be succumbing to blackmail.
Don’t lower expectations for the job
One of the reason why Trump continues to thrive is the low expectations for his presidency. The presidency should not be measured by the flexible aptitude of the person occupying the job, it should be measured by the expectations the awesome responsibilities of the position carries. A president should be someone of above average IQ with strong critical thinking skills. That means Americans should never allow the presidency to be dumbed down so the president can measure up.
The mediocrity of the Trump White House displayed by sloppy selection and vetting of cabinet secretaries and the incompetent implementation of executive orders such as the
Muslim travel ban shows this government is not ready for primetime. The media, and by that I mean cable and local TV, should not cut him some slack. Trump had more than two months after the elections to get his cabinet and act together and he did not. This is unlikely to improve but Americans deserve better.
Trump has to measure up to the expectations of the job not the other way around. If he cannot do so, he should quit and go back to running his businesses. Afterall winning the presidency has granted him some great publicity that he can cash in.
The media should establish a credible grading system and award pass or fail points to the president according to his performance. Afterall the reason for regular elections is to elect the person with great ideas who can improve the country. If Trump is not that guy heThey should compare his performance under similar circumstances with past presidents and tell him to step it up if he’s perceived to be performing below expectation.
American is the land of excellence, the President should be a reflection of that.
Media should not cover his rallies or media appearances live
One puzzling phenomenon about the media is the fact that they cannot stop covering Trump live. According to the New York Times, Trump got and equivalent of more than $2 billion worth advertising in free media coverage. To control Trump’s lies and falsehoods, the media should stop falling into the trap of giving him such media coverage. Trump’s rallies and media appearance are predictable. He open without any focus, ramble on and on about useless things, boast and praise himself that his electoral win is the biggest in history and was a landslide, then he will claim he lost popular votes because illegals voted for Clinton or there was massive voter fraud. That is despite the fact he opposed a recount of votes in certain states. He will say something nasty about America and Chicago and imply that only he can fix it. He will blame Obama for something and add some random falsehood that makes your scratch your head. He will make assertions about ISIS being the biggest threat to America. Yada! yada! yada!
Let’s discuss Trump’s ISIS obsession and how the media participates in Trump’s games.
The Truth is ISIS is not a threat to our national security. They are a nuisance that can be contained if Trump listens to experts, works with our allies and stop acting like a paranoid child who’s scared of a bogeyman under his bed. To put the ISIS threat in context, they do not have a country, they do not have a standing military or planes or a navy and they do not have the money to match a small third world country. How is that a threat to America? Trump needs to stop creating anxiety in America by confusing ISIS’ spectacular brutality with military might. Yes they are brutal, but they cannot last a day in a face-to-face confrontation with the mighty United States military.
Allowing Trump live airtime without giving context to his assertions creates fear in the country and a nation in fear is prone to manipulation and it’s citizenry cannot make rational decisions about their destiny.
The media should carry all Trump’s events with a delay and correct any falsehoods he spews instantly with supportive indisputable facts.
Avoid feeding into Trump-engineered chaos
During one Republican presidential debate, Jeb Bush predicted Trump would be a chaos president. He was right, Trump does not just foment chaos, he thrives in it and part of it is because he has no sense of shame and he never backs down. While chaos makes for fascinating TV, it’s not a good mix in the personality of a president. The media should avoid being snared and embroiled in Trump-engineered chaos. There is no reason to provide Trump with wall-to-wall coverage because he called Sen. John McCain names, been there done it. Instead, the media should designate such juvenile utterances to fluff news sections for posterity. By refusing to cover the Trump administration’s chaos, the media would deny Trump control of the airwaves and either expose him as the jokester who does not belong to the Oval Office effectively speeding up his impeachment or force him to step it up and become presidential.
Chaos and the US presidency don’t go together.
Hold Republicans accountable
Republicans are in control of the Senate, House of Representatives and the White House. They are working on getting the judiciary and that will be complete if Justice Neil Gorsuch is confirmed. They also control a majority of State Houses and legislatures. That is a lot of power given to one party. And as sad and hopeless as it may sound, Republicans are the only ones with real power to legislatively stop Trump. The media must make every effort to ensure their play the checks and balances role accordingly. Critical coverage of Republicans excusing Trump’s missteps, ethical violations and execution of bad policy should be raised at every opportunity.
While it’s not realistic to expect Republicans to attack a president from their party, the media should push them to ensure they don’t normalize Trump’s outrages or give him a pass when he violates the law.
So far Republicans have not held Trump accountable at all. They have rubberstamped all his nominees including Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, who clearly was not up to the job. Republicans barely said peep, when Trump equated American actions abroad to Putin’s regime’s activities that include allegations of assassinating journalists and his opponents.
They have looked the other way when Trump appear to be in violation of emoluments clause and have said nothing when Trump attacked our good neighbor Mexico or signed an executive order banning Muslims while pretending it’s just a mundane travel ban.
It’s amazing that Republicans who found outrage with Former First Lady Michelle Obama wearing a sleeveless dress don’t seem to have the same standard toward Trump. House Oversight Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz, who found something wrong with almost everything former President Barack Obama did, does not seem to be in a hurry to provide any oversight to the Trump administration. Chaffetz, who vigorously investigated former Democratic Party nominee Hillary Clinton’s use of private emails and homebrew server under the guise that she compromised national security, does not seem very concerned with Trump’s numerous conflicts that could be more real and even more dangerous to our national security. The media should not allow the double standards to prevail and Chaffetz should face questions about what he is doing about holding Trump accountable at every opportunity.
Holding Republican accountable creates awareness in the public and in turn puts Trump in check.
Organize separate Trump news programming to educate and entertain viewers
This is going to be difficult to do but not impossible. Because Trump is a news bacteria, meaning produces so much news copy in a day than anyone in his position ever, the media has been unable to focus on one important subject for a long time. I also understand that most media houses are for-profit businesses and pursuit of profit by showing content that attract the highest viewership is important. While it’s understandable that Trump’s news regardless of the outrage cannot be ignored, they can be classified into 3 groups, important follow-up, policy and fluff.
Important follow-up coverage should focus on news stories that require in-depth investigation. Policy coverage should include coverage of new government policy changes and fluff should focus on tweets and the silly outrage our president seems to have a penchant of engaging in.
The media should play its agenda-setting role by prioritizing the most important stories to be covered prominently no matter the latest outrage. Programming should be restructured to focus on following-up important issues such Trump’s business conflicts, lack of tax returns disclosures, Russian connection and executive orders that appear to violate the constitution such as the travel ban fashioned to accomplish his campaign promise of banning Muslims from coming to the US.
It doesn’t make any sense that all cable stations focus on the same things hour-after-hour everyday. What is the point of having new hosts if all of them say the same thing? It’s ridiculous.
Trump knows how to manipulate the media. He knows the media is fascinated by the latest shiny object and he know the media is obsessed with silly competition among station on who will break news first and fast. He has exploited these weaknesses throughout his life and he does not intend to change.
The media must therefore change and adapt and save America for the incompetence of Trump.
There are signs the media is changing for the better. CNN’s Jake Tapper refusal to interview Conway Sunday because of concerns about her credibility is a great start in reining in a White House with despotic tendencies. Rachel Maddow in MSNBC is another host who has taken a unique in-depth approach covering the White House and pointing out a lot of areas where the Trump administration is taking actions and making policy that could imperil America.