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A former aide reveals that she secretly taped the president and other administration figures in the White House. The press secretary can’t guarantee that the president hasn’t used the n-word. More than 350 news outlets publish editorials denouncing the president’s attacks on the free press. Yesterday, WaPo national security correspondent Greg Miller capped things in a tweet: “President’s campaign chairman is waiting to find out if he’s going to prison. Architect of bin Laden raid is daring president to take his clearances. Reality show contestant/WH employee has tape of $180K offer she got to stay quiet. Years of chaos in one day.”
Lost in the churn, it can be difficult to step back and recognize just how crazy the news cycle surrounding President Donald Trump has become. Trump’s ability—sometimes by choice, sometimes by unintended consequence of his own actions or those of the people with whom he has surrounded himself—to command coverage is unparalleled. When we look back at this period in America, will this simply be seen as the new normal? Or will Trump prove unique in his monopolization of attention?
Trump’s role in supercharging the news cycle through his scandals, stream-of-consciousness Twitter feed, and hunger for attention is astounding. If you’re struggling to adapt, you’ve got company. A Pew report released earlier this summer found that more than two-thirds of Americans report feeling worn out by the amount of news. Some have responded by checking out of the daily grind, but for others—especially those who don’t have the luxury of ignoring political decisions that will affect them or their loved ones—tuning out isn’t an option.
Journalists aren’t immune to becoming overwhelmed. Every week, it seems, I’ll find myself in conversations with colleagues in which we lament the whirlwind pace, the inability to focus on one subject before it is shoved from the front pages by the next five-alarm fire. Early this year, CJR’s Alexandria Neason eloquently captured the burnout that some reporters experience, writing, “I suspect I’m not alone in feeling trapped in the news cycle. Most days, even a brief step away from a laptop or television can put a casual reader of the news far behind….With every ban, every policy threat, every protest I covered, every executive order, every press conference (the entire newsroom plugged in, our eye rolls almost in sync), every alarmist headline, every controversial tweet and the inevitable backlash—I became increasingly exhausted and void of any energy to actually do my job. I’d spent it all just trying to keep up.”
Trump has challenged the press not just through his “fake news” and “enemy of the people” schtick, but also by straining the bounds of our ability to separate the serious from the sensational. More than 18 months into the presidency, the media is still struggling to keep up and, as Miller said, audiences must sift through years of chaos on a daily basis.
Below, more on a totally normal, completely chaotic week, and the new reality of our news cycle.
- Visualizing the news: Axios charted the insane Trump news cycle of 2018, using Google News Lab’s data on the googling trends of the public. Is it possible that Helsinki was only a month ago?
- Rewind: At the end of Trump’s first year in office, The New York Times’s Matt Flegenheimer wrote: “This may be Mr. Trump’s greatest trick: His tornado of news-making has scrambled Americans’ grasp of time and memory, producing a sort of sensory overload that can make even seismic events—of his creation or otherwise—disappear from the collective consciousness and public view.”
- A problem from the start: Even in Trump’s first hundred days, the press was struggling to keep its head above water. My former colleague David Uberti wrote that “the question we’re left with, posed time and again by journalists on Twitter, in stories, and on podcasts that double as support groups for media whiplash, is whether the public can cope. And consensus speculation is that mere mortals can’t possibly keep up.”
- What’s next?: Will today bring a verdict in the Manafort trial? A new revelation by Omarosa? A new storyline driven by Trump’s tweets?
- Things that matter: Examples of the stories that are easy to miss with all of the Trump news: This week Puerto Rican officials announced that power has finally been restored to all homes that lost electricity from Hurricane Maria eleven months ago. On Thursday, the US government revealed that 565 migrant children remain separated from their families.
Other notable stories
- The Intercept’s James Risen argues that yesterday’s wave of editorials criticizing Trump’s attacks on the media didn’t go far enough. “Most American editors and reporters today disavow old-fashioned, crusading journalism, in which a news organization or even a group of news outlets throw all of their energy into an all-out assault on one story. They fear that crusades look partisan,” Risen writes. “But crusading journalism is what is needed now.”
- CJR’s Alexandria Neason dives into a controversy surrounding The Washington Post’s feature on two white workers struggling to adjust to changing demographics at a chicken factory in Pennsylvania. The Post defended its work after facing widespread criticism for the execution of the piece, and Neason reports on Editor Martin Baron’s conversations with some of those who have called for diversity and inclusion training at the outlet.
- The Texas Observer and Quartz have launched a nine-part series on the impact of climate change in the Rio Grande Valley. The stories feature snazzy graphics, and the first part focuses on the way a fight for water can push nations apart, or bring them together.
- We shouldn’t take anything Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey says seriously, argues CJR’s Mathew Ingram. “Only now, more than a decade after Twitter was founded, is Dorsey finally willing to take a hard look at some of the potential negative effects of the technology he and his company created, years after those problems were first brought to their attention,” Ingram writes. “What took so long?”
- Dylan Byers is jumping from CNN to NBC and MSNBC, where he’ll serve as senior media reporter. Byers recently launched the “Pacific” newsletter for CNN, and will continue reporting on the intersection of tech, Hollywood, and media for the peacock network.
Jack Dorsey says Twitter is experimenting with features to promote “alternative viewpoints” in people’s timelines
Pick up a copy of your local paper today, and it’s likely you’ll find within a defense of the free press. More than 350 newspapers have responded to the call put out by Boston Globe deputy editorial page editor Marjorie Pritchard to unite in the face of President Trump’s criticism of the media. From Georgia to Nebraska to Oregon, editorial boards are weighing in on the importance of the work that journalists do.
“Today in the United States we have a president who has created a mantra that members of the media who do not blatantly support the policies of the current US administration are the ‘enemy of the people,’” reads the Globe’s offering. “This is one of the many lies that have been thrown out by this president.” In its editorial, which includes excerpts from across the country, The New York Times notes that “these attacks on the press are particularly threatening to journalists in nations with a less secure rule of law and to smaller publications in the United States, already buffeted by the industry’s economic crisis.”
— The Boston Globe (@BostonGlobe) August 15, 2018
While press defenses are necessary in the face of an unrelenting assault from the president and his lackeys, some have argued that the coordinated response plays into Trump’s hands. Politico’s Jack Shafer writes that the similar scripts “will provide Trump with circumstantial evidence of the existence of a national press cabal that has been convened solely to oppose him.” The San Francisco Chronicle raised the issue of independence in its decision not to join other papers in today’s effort. Another thread of this reasoning questions whether editorials have the power to move the needle at all. As David Uberti wrote for CJR prior to the 2016 election, newspaper editorial boards threw everything they had against Trump’s candidacy, to seemingly minimal effect.
But with the president consistently tweeting “fake news” through the world’s biggest megaphone, a united front from those on the ground is welcome. Not every paper is taking on Trump directly, and the most effective pieces I read were those reminding readers of the valuable work that reporters do in their communities. Despite what plays on cable news, most journalists aren’t focused on Washington; they’re reporting on local issues, working to keep their communities informed of issues that impact their daily lives.
Washington Post Editor Marty Baron has made a habit of repeating that, when it comes to reporting on Trump, journalists are not at war, they’re at work. The implication of the statement is that reporters can’t play into the president’s us vs. them framing. Similarly, the messages in today’s newspapers are best read not as a drift toward war footing, but rather as a reminder that journalism is important work.
Below, a check-in with editorials from around the country.
- Bangor Daily News (Maine): “[News organizations] are the only way you know when your government isn’t working as it should. They are the only independent way to know what elected officials are doing. Often, if the government doesn’t like journalists, it’s probably because they’re doing their job right.”
- Albuquerque Journal (New Mexico): “For more than two centuries—since the birth of our nation—the press has served as a check on power, informing the American people about corruption and greed, triumphs and tragedies, grave mistakes and misdeeds and even ineptitude and dysfunction inside the halls of government, institutions and businesses.”
- Tampa Bay Times (Florida): “In such a toxic environment, Trump’s declarations undermine not just journalists and news organizations but the communities and democracy we endeavor to serve. It is an attempt to blur the difference between fact-based news gathering, and the lies and propaganda that spread like wildfire through social media. Ultimately, engaged citizens must play the vital role in distinguishing one from the other as they choose their elected leaders and shape civic life.”
- Bozeman Daily Chronicle (Montana): “We’ve been complacent. We thought everybody knew how important a free press was to our world and that all this talk about us being the enemy of the people would be dismissed for the silliness that it is. But the reckless attacks have continued, instigated and encouraged by our president.”
- The Salt Lake Tribune (Utah): “This editorial is one of more than 200 such pieces running today in newspapers across the nation….As such, it runs the risk of being seen as a mass collusion on the part of the media against the president. But this is a fight he chose. And it is essential that the press stand up for its right—its duty—to tell what may be unpleasant or unpopular truths.”
Other notable stories
- A Reuters special report by Steve Stecklow explores why Facebook is losing the war on hate speech in Myanmar. Earlier this year, Mark Zuckerberg pledged to dedicate more resources to combat the sort of posts that had incited violence against the Rohingya minority. Four months later, Stecklow finds that little has changed.
- For CJR, Maia Szalavitz takes on the “relatable addict” narrative that describes much of the coverage of the opioid epidemic. “The ‘relatable’ story journalists and editors tend to seek—of a good girl or guy (usually, in this crisis, white) gone bad because pharma greed led to overprescribing—does not accurately characterize the most common story of opioid addiction,” she writes.
- Washington Post book critic Carlos Lozada read half a dozen “hagiographies” of the president, finding that “some are born Trump sycophants. Some achieve Trump sycophancy. And some have Trump sycophancy thrust upon them—since he’s a star, they let him do that.”
- The Wall Street Journal’s Peter Nicholas snagged an Oval Office interview with President Trump on Wednesday. The 20-minute conversation focused largely on the impact of Trump’s tariff regimen, and Nicholas does an excellent job within the story of puncturing Trump’s inflated claims with actual numbers and context.
- The Post’s Paul Farhi profiles CNN digital sleuth Andrew Kaczynski, who he calls “the foremost practitioner of the journalistic equivalent of dumpster diving.” Kaczynski and his “KFile” team have been responsible for dozens of scoops about troubling comments by public figures, several of which have resulted in resignations.