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Damaging for democracy?

Potential fallout from contentious relationship between Trump, media

From President Donald Trump’s tweets alleging fake news to the mainstream media’s dogged fact-checking of the Trump administration, tensions continue to escalate between the Fourth Estate and America’s commander in chief.

A Pew Research poll this year found that 83 percent of American adults categorize the relationship as unhealthy, with 73 percent saying it hinders access to important political news.

Ohio State journalism professor Nicole Kraft agrees with the nonpartisan think tank’s findings.

“There is nothing productive about this relationship,” Kraft said. “It blinds us to important issues. It forces us to take emotional sides rather than logical ones.”

Here are four potential outcomes of this “unhealthy” relationship according to Kraft and others who study or work in the journalism industry.

Outcome 1: The electorate must become more savvy — or risk being left behind.

The public obtains news from a variety of sources, some of which are not credible, and they are being misled by political leaders, Kraft said. This misinformation could lead to an uninformed electorate both now and in the future, she added.

“People don’t know what to believe anymore,” she said. “We’re experiencing the reality show of our lives.”

Although Trump can manipulate the press, mainstream media continue to provide enough impartial information for readers to stay informed on important topics, said Jack Torry, Washington D.C. bureau chief for The Columbus Dispatch and Dayton Daily News.

“I think readers are a little smarter than we often give them credit for,” said Torry, who graduated from Ohio State in 1975.

The president’s relationship with the press is adversarial by nature, regardless of who is in office, he added.

“Our job is to report what is happening in the most accurate way possible,” he said. “A lot of presidents don’t like that. … If Hillary Clinton won the election, there would still be a lot of fights.”

Outcome 2: Journalism becomes more partisan.

The tension also reinforces the trend of readers moving away from impartial news outlets to media that confirm one’s existing bias or partisan views, said Kevin Smith, a media ethicist and director of the Kiplinger Program in Public Affairs Journalism at Ohio State.

This might fuel an increase in more partisan news outlets, he said.

“The fringes are starting to grow,” he said. “Journalism entrepreneurs see that as fertile ground to build websites and have blogs that focus on reaching the extreme partisan ends.”

Outcome 3: Copycat politicians imitate Trump.

Trump has taken “press-bashing” to a new level, and this animosity has created a trickle-down effect among lower-level politicians, Smith said.

“The president has decided that it’s perfectly OK to do battle with the press, to call them names, to not have press conferences … to lie to them, and then to blame them,” Smith said. “What happens then is other politicians at various levels take their signal from that.”

Outcome 4: Overaggressive coverage.

The press, however, is also at fault, contributing to this unhealthy relationship by basing coverage on speculation and commentary instead of simply reporting the facts, Smith said.

He also criticized the media for focusing too much coverage on the White House, especially when compared to the coverage of previous administrations.

“The media has allowed itself to get swept up in this sort of Trump coverage to the point that it sometimes seems kind of ridiculous,” he said.

Kraft agreed, adding that monopolized coverage “keeps us from really exposing and illuminating things that are important to the voting public.”

Smith is concerned that the media’s overaggressive coverage will continue into the future.

“My worry is that the next president may not be nearly as controversial as this president, but the press and the public have already bared their teeth, shown their claws … and are not willing to back off.”