Donald Trump

Media must stay true to their values, despite Trump

The job of journalists is clear: they have to continue to point out the new president’s untruths and do their best to keep his administration in check

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 25 January, 2017, 3:15am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 25 January, 2017, 3:15am

Donald Trump had a rocky relationship with the mainstream media while campaigning to be US president, but it has got rockier still since he took office. From Russia’s alleged meddling in American politics to the size of the inauguration crowd, the hostility is plainly on show. But as regrettable as the breakdown in links may be, journalists have to avoid falling into a trap. Rather than pandering and fawning over the new leader to gain the cooperation and respect they have been accustomed to, their focus has to be on maintaining their important role of keeping public figures honest.

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As a political novice with authoritarian tendencies, Trump has shown little regard for the establishment and protocols. The media has a vaunted role in that structure through being what is known as the Fourth Estate, its position being to hold administrations accountable and prevent abuses of power. The billionaire president’s business empire and vast dealings, the appointees he has surrounded himself with who have similar backgrounds and their lack of experience in government requires the casting of a critical eye to prevent conflicts of interest.

That will be challenging given how Trump sees the media. He perceives the major outlets as being leftist and biased against him and his way of thinking, leading him to refer to it by a host of derogatory terms, from “slime” to “the lowest of life” to “ lying, disgusting people”. Outlets that have carried reports and commentaries he does not like have been barred from asking questions at press events. Generally, his conservative Republican Party supporters have cheered his every criticism, furthering a record trust deficit in the American media.

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Arguably, no US president has had such poor media ties. He has repeatedly threatened to loosen libel laws to make it easier to take action against the press. But journalists have to resist being cowed or becoming sycophants; they have to continue to point out the new president’s untruths and do their best to keep his administration in check.