Current Events: All the President’s Reporters Over Simplify America

What is the role of the press in U.S. politics? How did it do during the 2016 presidential election?  How is it doing covering President Trump?

These are some of the questions that a panel of experienced reporters attempted to answer during The New Yorker Festival’s “All The President’s Reporters” panel.

The panel, which included Jo Becker, from The New York Times, Carl Bernstein of Watergate fame and now at Vanity Fair and CNN, Jane Mayer of The New Yorker, and Greg Miller, of the Washington Post, had a lively discussion with the moderation of David Rohde, the news director of the thenewyorker.com.

The discussion moved me to do something I rarely do at events like these, and that is get up and pose a question to the panel. In their conversation, they covered Russian interference in the election, the ideological divisions in the country, and the repeated assaults on the new media by Donald Trump, who nevertheless remains very concerned about his coverage.

David Rohde asked whether or not the media had somehow failed in its coverage of Donald Trump and of the presidential election as a whole.

Jo Becker said that the media had covered things about Donald Trump’s business dealings and personal scandals but that none of it seemed to matter very much. Greg Miller added that it seemed that the media had been used as a tool of the “Russian operation” and that there were limits to what the media could be expected to report in real time.

Carl Bernstein made an important point, which was that “I don’t think it is our job to keep Donald Trump from being president of the United States or to see that he has has a premature exit. Our job is to learn what the hell is going on.”

But in all of this, whether it is a Russian attempt to influence the election, a divided electorate that searches for news that reinforces its preconceived notions, the discussion continued as though Hillary Clinton had not won the popular vote by 3 million votes. The idea of Russian hacking or people not learning about the scandals of Donald Trump start to fail when you consider that most of the people in the United States did not vote for him. Half of the people didn’t vote, and of those, fewer than half voted for him. Even among the quarter of the population that voted for Donald Trump, there was a significant group that voted for him strictly as a protest vote, those that voted for him because they thought Clinton would win regardless, and those that voted for him because he was the Republican, not because of the candidate himself.

I feel there is a condemnation of the American people based on an electoral system glitch. To her credit, Jo Becker did point out that Obama had been elected twice and that one of the things historians would need to grapple with is how the country could go from voting for him twice to electing Donald Trump.

While I believe that Carl Bernstein was correct that cable news gave Trump too much free airtime and that Jo Becker was right that Trump was not taken seriously enough, I do believe that in a country where he got less than 25 per cent of the vote and where this week 64 percent of the country says the United States in on the wrong track in a USA Today poll, we should not be too quick to say that Trump won thanks to some combination of American racism and Russian meddling. Our country is far more complicated and sophisticated than that.  Our panel, as accomplished and distinguished as they were, and the rest of the press, should adjust their reporting to account for that complicated picture.

Advertisements

It’s Time to Change the Conversation

The United States is in a strange place right now. With the inauguration of Donald Trump, it seems like every conversation has become political and many people are living in a state of permanent distraction.

On the right, considerable gloating could and can be heard about the changes that are supposed to come and the over throw of the old system. As the opposition grows more vocal, so do the growls of retaliation from the administration and its supporters. A sense of discomfort is settling over the right as they realize they have no mandate and less support than they thought.

On the left, the election results were met with disbelief and wailing and gnashing of teeth. It was concerning to hear people say that they could not function in their daily lives. If the results lay them out, then how will they be able to take the hits that will come? Now people speak of resistance and with cautious hope that occasionally dips back into despair. Meanwhile, a riptide of violent talk and action is starting to filter through the left. People talking about (and actually) punching Nazis and trying to establish their violence bona fides from their history of fighting at punk concerts.

At the center of it all, however, remains one constant topic — Trump himself. This central position is what gives him so much power. By becoming the locus of all the efforts, energy, and attention, all the moves become his. Everyone else is reduced to reaction. So, he is setting the tone and the agenda for the entire country. He runs the conversation.

It is time to change the conversation.

The president is not the only political actor in the country. The Federal Government is not the only political actor in the country. Yet the reactions point to an ugly truth that maybe no one wants to hear — perhaps the left really has become to dependent on the government.

What should the conversation be?

Instead of making everything about Donald Trump, we need to start thinking about the issues facing our nation and our world. We need to start with facts and data, identify the problems, and begin working on the solutions. Since the federal government is no longer going to be of much help, it is time to find state, local, and private solutions to problems we face. There will be some federal battles to fight.Those are important, but for this discussion let’s think about the things that can be solved.

With the Democratic party unable to provide leadership, the resistance will be local.

We are starting to see some signs of this. For example, in Massachusetts, there is a bill that would require the state to get all of its energy from renewable resources. At the same time, Governor Charlie Baker, a republican, has said that if the Affordable Care Act goes away, then he will work to reinstate the previous universal coverage bill in Massachusetts that the ACA was based on (also known as Romneycare).

Money Magazine took a look at 17 programs that the Trump administration wants to cut and calculated that the cost per American citizen is $22.36 per year. This includes funding for things like the Corporation for Public Broadcasting ($1.37), the National Endowment for the Arts ($0.46), and the Minority Business Development Agency ($0.11). All of these are worthy programs, but given the amount in the budget, maybe it is time to remove them from the political football field. This way, instead of being kicked around, they take the loss of federal funding, use it as a call to action, and build up their own private endowment. Call it an “Ice Bucket Challenge for the Humanities.” We can get people to kick in a little extra. I realize that not everyone can afford to donate — the battle cry of the left whenever someone suggests that people should do some of their own funding — but it becomes a case of from each according to his/her ability, to each according to his/her need. What would it cost to cover five Americans? About $111.80? I’ll cover myself and four others.

Yes, private funding can be fickle (so can government funding). But really, the question now is what do we value, and are we willing to support it, whether through our state and local governments or our own efforts.

The point of these examples is not the examples per se. It is that solutions exist, and they don’t need Donald Trump or the federal government to bless them. Maybe by changing the conversation, we can start to prevent some bad things from happening by creating sustainable, smaller scale solutions.