It’s time for journalists to stand up

By Caitlin Kelly

Columbia Journalism School

Some of you are fellow journalists.

Some of you follow the news closely and know that President Elect Donald Trump makes a habit of naming, shaming and blaming reporters he thinks have somehow insulted him, often by merely challenging him on his ever-shifting statements and tweets.

At his first press conference in six months, which penned hundreds of journalists into the lobby of Trump Tower in midtown Manhattan, Trump was typically belligerent and bullying.

Here’s CNN White House reporter Jim Acosta threatened with expulsion from the conference.

Even worse — and frankly, this is so bizarre I’ve never seen it in  40 years of working in news journalism — his minions jeered at reporters.

From the Times:

A Greek chorus of sorts — mostly Trump supporters and aides, including Ms. Manigault — watched from the side, applauding Mr. Trump and jeering questions from reporters they deemed unpleasant.

Here’s the New York Times‘ media reporter:

“That” was Donald J. Trump’s inaugural news conference as a duly elected United States president-to-be, in which he called BuzzFeed a “failing pile of garbage,” dismissed CNN as “fake news” and more or less told the whole lot of reporters at Trump Tower to stuff it when it comes to his unreleased tax returns because everyday Americans don’t care and, anyway, “I won.”

There were two big lessons in the Wednesday morning melee.

1. Mr. Trump remains a master media manipulator who used his first news briefing since July to expertly delegitimize the news media and make it the story rather than the chaotic swirl of ethical questions that engulf his transition.

2. The news media remains an unwitting accomplice in its own diminishment as it fails to get a handle on how to cover this new and wholly unprecedented president.

It better figure things out, fast, because it has found itself at the edge of the cliff. And our still-functioning (fingers crossed) democracy needs it to stay on the right side of the drop.

The problem is multi-faceted.

Some of the issues journalists now face in covering Trump:

Many Americans don’t trust the MSM, mainstream media.

— Many Americans are gulping down “fake news” with no idea who’s lying to them and making bank from it.

—Many Americans loathe journalists and think that challenging those in authority — whether elected officials or the wealthy — is rude and disrespectful.

— In an era of a 24/7 news cycle, journalists are racing to be first, not always correct.

— In an era of unprecedented secrecy and obfuscation, (we have not yet seen Trump’s tax returns — and how long exactly does an audit take?), transparency and accountability are more essential than ever for voters to know what the hell is going on.

— The President-elect is hiring his own family as senior advisors, none of whom, like him, have any prior political experience. Also unpredecented. And why should any of us trust them? We didn’t vote for them, nor do they need to be confirmed through Senate hearings.

— Journalists have traditionally been respectful of the office of the President, but never before in recent history has there been a President who attacks the media almost daily, often singling out specific reporters, (like NBC’s Katy Tur) by name. That can lead to social media death threats and doxing.

— Journalists are working in an industry in deep turmoil financially, feeling economically vulnerable at the very moment we need them to be utterly fierce in their reporting.

— Without determined, consistent, aggressive reporting on every conceivable conflict of interest, voters, no matter who they chose (or didn’t vote at all), will have no idea what Trump and his kakistocracy are up to. Trying to intimidate us only invites doubling down.


Count on that!

43 thoughts on “It’s time for journalists to stand up

  1. I don`t have any answers- this is way out of my zone of knowledge- but- I hope reporters and journalists remain diligent in reporting the truth. Even in the face of being the bad guy. I worked in an industry that typically fills the role of villain- someone always is

    1. If Trump keeps bullying and banning us from his events and press conferences, the voters are the one to suffer. Many do not understand that simply digesting Trump’s tweets is going to sufficiently explain the next four years.

  2. I just want to send everyone to their corner for a time-out..I guess it’s a “mom thing.” In all seriousness, I’m exhausted and the man hasn’t even been sworn in. How did we get to this point?? As you suggest, there’s blame to go around. Trump’s handling of the press is impossible to defend..and yet I’m still waiting for CNN to come clean on the whole Donna Brazile debate cheating issue. As a former HS debate judge, that mattered to me! I’d take a side, but I’m disgusted- DISGUSTED!!!- with absolutely everyone!

  3. President elect Trump is a petulant child in his actions and hi treatment of the press will only come back to bite him in the bum. Given his attitude and the type of people he’s appointed to top jobs it seems he’s got a lot of (psycho)phants in the White House who will provide the press with plenty of ammunition to shoot them down in the years to come. The press have the job of making sue this reign lasts no more than the first four years and that every transgression of power, every act not in the interest of the American people is recorded for posterity.
    Huge Hugs

  4. How do journalists learn to deal with someone like Mr. Trump? Does it come with experience and are the basics of this covered in journalism courses? Given the financial health of most news organizations, do you think journalists can maintain the high standards of reporting we need? I would be interested in reading your thoughts on this.

    1. Great questions.

      1) By doing it. Right now, American journalists are in a state of cognitive dissonance — they are long accustomed to speaking to a President with the deep respect Americans have always held for the OFFICE of President, and once always formerly held by someone with grace, character and political experience. Not now! Right now, they’re all on a very very steep learning curve! No one knows what to do, scared he will deny them and their organization all access.

      2) I never studied journalism — although I’ve taught it. Yes, it comes with experience, and depends on the culture of the employer (how tough they encourage you to be) and maybe how secure your feel in your job. Which is sad, but true. Being really tough on difficult sources is also a personality trait — you’re a natural bulldog or you’re not. 🙂

      3) I wish! Yes to the NYT, WashPost, (about to hire more staff), Guardian, maybe CNN and the major networks. After that…not sure. I think those who are already employed will certainly do everything possible to keep their jobs…and I sure hope (as a reader) they do. We need smart, tough, deep reporting and analysis — a la David Farenthold of the Washington Post, who spent months investigating Trump’s non existent charitable donations.

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  6. Little Orange Fingers (courtesy of Ross Murray at – he’s a fellow Canadian & humourist) has legitimised vulgar, boorish, vicious behaviour. I am quite convinced that he’s an NPD narcissist who will eventually implode. You’re right, the media needs to figure out how to handle him & get on the same page, and then they need to unrelentingly hammer him. Under that kind of scrutiny and pressure and in true narcissist style, he will resign. Or, maybe he will be impeached – he won’t be able to help himself & will get caught doing something. The worry is how much damage he will do before he leaves.

    The problem is that the VP seems awful too, just in a different way. And I’m not so sure that DT’s likely departure isn’t on the Republican agenda: wait until he does something they can’t ignore, let him hang himself, and then get Pence in, a guy who was otherwise completely unelectable. (Yuck. That sounds conspiracy-ish, but nevertheless, I think it may be a possibility.)

    I’ve often noted that the US has a very dark side that’s often propelled by fear, and then there’s the culture of ambition on top of that. This can be a bad mix.

    1. Yes to all of that. Sadly.

      Pence is seen as the lesser of two (very real) evils with his right wing stances on women’s rights and more. There have been many many people suggesting this NPD diagnosis — then a backlash saying how dare you stigmatize mental illness, etc.

      The reality is that Trump has gotten himself into a place of tremendous power and has no idea how to govern — nor does most of his Cabinet. Awesome! As intelligence staff and others with EXPERIENCE keep warning us all, Russia, Iran, Pakistan — anyone who wants to test the U.S. globally is eager to poke this bizarre neophyte who can’t even speak in complete sentences. That is very very frightening indeed.

      In desperation, I started re-watching — from the 1999 pilot — the West Wing. 🙂

      1. Fatima

        I watched The West Wing pilot too. It seemed a number of people of I know watched episodes of the WW within days of the election.

      2. It’s interesting that people would say that DT is being stigmatised for mental illness. NPD is a personality disorder, and people who suffer from them are very difficult to treat, often because they won’t admit that anything is wrong with them. Imho, it would be much better if he had some sort of mental illness – at least there might be a treatment.

        The idea that other countries will want to test him is very scary indeed.

      3. I have NPD relatives and it’s exhausting, confusing, frightening. Have dealt with it for decades and have spent many years choosing to remain estranged to avoid gaslighting and other behaviors typical of the disorder. Journalists are making a HUGE error to treat him as though he were normal; I grew up with this shit and recognize all of it. As do you. 🙂

    2. Excellent article. Very informative and concise.
      Thank you!

      I agree wholeheartedly. A master manipulation is occurring right under our proverbial noses. I voted for Hillary, as the lessor of the two evils. Pence in my opinion is much worse, than DT.

      Democracy has lost its roots, and what the DFL stood for is lost. This allowed the current state of affairs to occur.

  7. The world needs journalists now more than ever (I think I’ve just regurgitated the NYT’s current campaign theme), but it also needs its citizens to think like journalists more than ever: question the source, cross-reference the story before sharing…. As for the press, you have your work cut out for you to stay ahead of the wave of manipulation over the next 4 years. All I can suggest is that it takes two to tango, and while you must tell the truth, you don’t have to descend to his level to do it. Treat the idiot with the respect due to the office and he won’t be able to grandstand quite as much as he did in that first appalling press conference.

    1. Thanks for weighing in. I agree with you — media literacy in an age of fake news is essential. I wonder how many people even care!

      The problem is not descending to his level — I agree — but to make sure we can get at all the information about his many potential (and likely) business dealings and conflicts of interest, those and those of Jared Kushner and Ivanka. It is a huge and unprecedented mess. Everyone hated Hillary Clinton for taking $$$$$$ for speaking at Goldman Sachs, but at least that data was public. This man has been elected with NO VIEW of his tax returns. That alone is unfathomable to me.

  8. I’m afraid that, internationally-speaking, the USA has become a laughing stock. We watch in disbelief the antics of Twisted Trump and wonder how this was even allowed to happen. Another thing: those Rust Belt and rural supporters who voted massively for him…I wonder what they’re thinking now. Coz he’s already forgotten them!

    And lastly, we all know now that H. Clinton won the popular vote by just under 3 million. What’s at fault is this stupid, archaic Electoral College process. THAT’s how Trump managed to become President!

    1. No surprise to me.

      But I read British and Canadian and French press and news reports — as i imagine maybe .000005% of Americans do. Most don’t care what the world thinks. They want (and I agree) a job, health care they can afford, college for their kids and grandkids. This, for many people, was a vote AGAINST HRC and things-as-usual as a vote of confidence in a con man.

      A key factor is that 90% of the major press organizations are HQed in NYC — where, for years, Trump is seen (as he is) as a blowhard, a liar and a buffoon. So the way we saw him we assumed (oops) the rest of the country would realize as well. Nope. The rest of the country is angry and fed up and desperate.

      Look what’s happening in Europe with a wave of right wingers arriving. Economic desperation and fear of terrorism/immigration will do that everywhere.

  9. Steve

    Sorry but you Progressives crack me up with your hypocrisy. He isn’t even elected yet and you’re hoping for impeachment? For what? Your guy, you know, the one with the big ears has run roughshod over the Constitution for eight years and not a word from the left except cheers and jeers to anyone with the cajoles to stand up to him. Trump called Buzzfeed a pile of garbage because they refused to do their job and confirm a story stuffed full of lies and innuendo against the next POS and CNN did the same thing. Maybe if so called journalists actually started doing there jobs of actually reporting the news instead of always bashing Republicans and Conservatives instead of constantly trying to smear politically everyone who disagrees with them. All this garbage about the Russians influencing our elections by releasing Hillarys emails. They may have released them but they didn’t write them. They weren’t the ones trying to fix OUR election, Hillary was, just ask Bernie. CNN and other ‘journalists’ giving debate questions ahead of time and so on and so on. I am certainly not a big Trump fan and if he screws up I will be the first one to hold him accountable but you guys on the left really need to step back and remove the log from your own eye before removing the speck from someone else. At least be consistent, that’s all Americans want.

    1. I was fairly sure you’d weigh in on this one!

      I won’t address all of your points.

      My concerns remain the same:

      1) he is a bully, sexist and misogynist, i.e. his character — something you’ve said here many times you admire and value in others — is deeply suspect to many, not merely journalists,. Dems or progressives.

      2) He is opaque and evasive about his wealth and refuses to show his tax returns. The Oval is not a job you win by shouting “trust me, it’s gonna be GREAT!” While he did, he has left a deep residue of mistrust among millions.

      3) It’s his turn now. Endlessly debating what has gone before? Not helpful.

      4) His Cabinet is filled with people who are billionaires and/or those with ZERO prior political experience — except for writing huge checks to fellow right wing billionaires. That leaves the other 99% wary and rightly so. Why on earth should any American now feel comfortable? Republicans gloat. Good for them.

      The country is not only made up of Republicans eager to stick it to the rest of us.

      Donald Trump is a cheat and a liar. I know personally a local contractor (!) — maybe you can identify with that rage — who was one of many hard working, contract-signing professionals that DT STIFFED.

      That alone is enough to make me sneer in disdain, regardless of which party chose him.

  10. CRGardenJoe

    Journalists face a president who deftly attacks the media to play to his base. But Trump is one of the most deeply unpopular president-elects, partly because manipulating media to create his own fake public persona seems to be his only deep skill. He’s the dog who caught the car and has no idea what to do with it. I’m afraid it will be a long 4 years for journalists–and all Americans …

    1. I wonder if he will even last four years — he has NO experience and cannot tolerate any dissent or criticism. Hello, you’re the President? It comes with its own daily torrent of both — aka democracy and free speech. It’s too funny he can’t take it, after publicly demeaning so many others.

      1. steve

        like I said your hypocrisy amazes me. You claim Trump has no experience yet he has run multimillion dollar companies and projects all over the world. Did you feel the same about the current occupant who actually didn’t have ANY skills for the job at all. my guess would be a big NO. You were just calling for his impeachment before he was even sworn in. You’re questioning his character? He probably does have some character flaws but there are just as many stories of him doing positive things as well. Tell me…are you just as concerned about Hillary’s many reported character flaws as well? many stories of her throwing things at Bill and abusing coworkers and staff ,etc. Why do these things only matter to you guys when they are Republicans/ Like I said at least just be consistent.

      2. Trump has had many bankruptcies. That is fact.

        Trump is a sexist pig who boasts of grapping women’s genitals. Fact (on video.)

        Obama had been a community organizer in one of the nation’s largest cities — i.e. he demonstrated a passion for social justice and (remember?) was re-elected. Trump’s “charitable donations” have been multiply challenged.

        Trump has NO political experience. NONE. He has no idea how to run an administration — and more to the point, makes clear it’s his way or the highway. Why bother listening to anyone — Republicans included — who might actually have useful insights and wisdom to share with him? Nope. He’s not interested.

        My utter disrespect for this man is NOT his party — I didn’t feel this way about either Bush.

        It is a character issue for me.
        It is a sexism issue for me.
        It is his proven inabilty to honor contractual agreements with fellow businesses — like my friend — happily cheating them and laughing in their faces at his ability to “win.”

        It is his bullying of the press at his press conference, adding a chorus of supporters to jeer at them (who does this, Steve? Please, find me ONE Presidential precedent for this) instead of taking this role seriously. His belligerence toward the press — before even being sworn in? — is crazy.

        You can rail all you wish about HRC. DEAD issue, Steve. She is not the PEOTUS so no need to keep discussing her or why she isn’t there.

        I am discussing the current PEOTUS.

        Please detail his positives. Happy to hear all about them, Steve.

    1. steve

      Thank you. I can’t believe Im actually stuck again defending these guys.i am not a big Trump fan, I actually backed Cruz. I haven’t liked Trump since he imminent demand a little old lady in AC when he built his first casino. I don’t trust him . I am in wait and see mode. Before him I found myself defending the Bushs who I don’t like either. I hold my nose and pull the lever for the lesser of all evil, which is what I’m given. Obama, Clinton, and the list of liberal Democrats know no limits for being repulsive to me on every issue. All I want from my government is two things 1. Leave me the heck alone and 2. Give me back my money. I am perfectly capable to take care of myself, my family and my neighbor when they need a hand. Government is not my friend they are my largest problem and seek to enslave me at every turn of my life. I don’t need the government to tell me how bright a lightbulb I can use or how many gallons of water I need to flush my toilet. I would just like to see the same revulsion for all politicians when they step over the line which is constantly by BOTH sides. CONSISTENCY.

      Who does this? How about Obama’s comments of ‘you didn’t build that’ or “bitterly clinging to our Bibles and guns” or demonizing lawful gun owners or using government agencies like the IRS, EPA. NSA to target political rivals or HRC calling non supporters ‘deplorable’. The list goes on and on and NEVER demonized by your side. Step back and be the objective reporter that I know you are. I’ve read your stuff but you are blind to the hypocrisy of the Progressive movement and the American populace has had enough. Be brave!

      1. I’m not blind to it at all, actually! 🙂 Really, I’m not, I have plenty of problems with some of the behaviors of Progressives — and am appalled by the ignorance of much of the U.S. by the liberal elites of the MSM (mainstream media) and the Democratic party. Steve, I can’t even vote! (green card)

        You and I see the world so differently in some ways, which is cool. I’ve only lived in a rural area once in my life (1988-1989, New Hampshire) and it was a very very poor fit for me, socially, economically and — yes — politically. Believe me, you have NO idea how snotty and elite the wealthy are until you live in a college town (Hanover, NH/Dartmouth) and see the disdain that gown has for town. Holy shit. What an eye-opener that was for me, then newly arrived from Canada.

        The key difference between us is our vision of what government is for. You want the least possible (and, in many ways, I do, as well, actually.) BUT…God bless your strength and health and work ethic. Millions of people (yes, socialist that I am) do NOT have what we do and they need help. I’m no fan of multi-generational welfare (I’ve seen it up close, when I was a Big Sister here), but a purely capitalist system with the thinnest and weakest social safety net of any developed nation leaves millions at risk…The government taxes the HELL out of me! I resent every penny, NOT because I am taxed but because the bulk of it goes to defense and the military, not to health and education, which better reflects my values.

        HRC certainly regrets her use of the word “deplorables”! I don’t agree with 100% of what progressives say or do. Please give me credit for greater nuance than that. Just because I don’t get into chapter and verse doesn’t mean I don’t share some of your views.

  11. this is horrifying and horrible. it is not the politicians who should be watchdogging the press, it’s supposed to be the other way around. stick together, journos!

      1. Exactly. Jose and I have begun disappearing into The West Wing re-runs and have vowed to stop watching the news after Jan. 20. It is sick-making. (Also talking to realtors in Canada, should we decide we need to flee.)

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  13. While I understand that “truth” (philosophically speaking) is a slippery thing, I don’t believe that Mr. Trump knows fact from fiction. He seems to make up statements—often outrageous, hyperbolic statements—on the fly with little regard for their grammar, content, veracity, or consequences. And, when the situation changes, he will say the exact opposite with the same conviction.

    What gets me is that, when presented with evidence of his “flip” or “flop” or “lie,” nothing happens of any consequence to him. Indeed, those in his camp, find it one of his best qualities. What can journalists, or anyone else, do in the face of this kind of aberration of “reality” (another slippery notion).

    After the election results came in, I had to stop listening to the news because I was so upset. I took his win personally and it felt horrible. If it was a referendum on the Obama years, it was also a referendum on pluralism, compassion, integrity, and humanitarianism. I hold these values close to my heart. So, it felt like a referendum on me.

    I dipped my toe back into current events recently and was, in a word, horrified.

    As an antidote, I’ve been reading a lot of Buddhist teachings lately. 😐

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