20 Feb Trump’s Press Conferences – are compulsive viewing – only just longer than an episode of Law and Order so really is must see TV!
After all the hullabaloo I decided to watch all 1hr 16 minutes and 56 seconds of his latest press conference – no 2 minute Youtube highlights for me!
It appeared to start well – sombre tone, a canter around new appointments and the work of his administration to date. Then I thought we were going to get a conciliatory moment, ‘Look guys we got off on a bad footing but we need to make things work between us’, for there was palpable animosity in the room. The gathered journalists still in a state of disbelief that the man before them was President and Trump bristling with their unacceptable.
Whilst a candidate it seemed Trump had tolerated, even baited, the press – the billionaire buffoon and underdog who didn’t stand a chance. But when he won he wanted, even expected, some kind of respect – even if it were begrudged from the press who’d run him down and got the outcome so wrong, and yet much to his visible irritation, this hasn’t happened. They didn’t like him on the campaign trail and they don’t like him now.
So when he said he’d had the biggest win since Reagan, whilst incorrect numerically, if he’d inserted the word ‘surprise’ in the sentence and said the biggest surprise win, he’d have been correct. But he didn’t and gleefully they jumped on it as fake news, just like the biggest number watching him at his inauguration. Again if he’d said the biggest number watching, including on TV and social media, and not just present in Washington (most of his supporters are not in Washington so no surprise if they weren’t present in person) he’d have been correct, but he didn’t. Being at such odds with each other offers no room for manoeuvre, no room for correction and zero patience is afforded. In fact for those of us dispassionately watching in, a bit of respect either way wouldn’t go amiss – Trump won the election and the journalists are at the top of their game, they all need to acknowledge that.
So as I watched his press conference, Trump made some good points (more on that later) but they were lost because of inaccuracies which could so easily have been avoided if he’d kept to a more carefully crafted script. Note to self – know your audience before you speak. The room is full of some of the best wordsmiths in the world, word accuracy, semantics, fact checking is their game, so don’t be surprised if they seize upon an inaccuracy and explode it to be their headline. A headline being a short simple attention grabbing title for the fuller article! Every journalist in the room needs an angle, a reason for a reader to pick up and buy their paper. So ‘Trump Rants & Raves’ is obvious, he even gave them the line to say, or ‘Trump gets facts wrong’ another easy headline. These are basic mistakes. Lessons he shouldn’t be learning live at a Presidential press conference.
To the good points and funny comments he made, which I didn’t see on any clipped version of the conference, here goes. One quip in particular brought a smile to my face as well as laughter to the otherwise prickly press room. When speaking to one of the antagonistic journalists who as it turned out shared the surname of the newly appointed Labor Minister, Trump asked if they were related and then told his team to double check the family tree – it was a genuinely funny moment.
The serious points raised and subsequently lost:
1) Real tension between what should be classified information – private conversations between him and other leaders on issues of national security which have been leaked and ended up on the front pages of papers. Transparency versus confidential information on the grounds of state security is a real issue, and growing.
2) Tone and anger of media.
3) Lack of balance of the broadcasting institutions.
4) The viewing of different opinions (in this instance Trump supporters) as inferior opinions.
5) The difference between opinion and fact, and opinion reported as fact. Both sides are guilty of this, but opinion based reporting has grown considerably over the last 30 years.
I remember working in TV in the early 90s and wanting to do investigative journalism just as it was on the decline. I asked why and got these simple answers even back then a) fear of being sued, the cost of insurance and/or court cases was making TV stations risk averse to making such programmes b) the cost of such programmes, the time they took to research, film and edit, with much of the content left on the cutting room floor, whereas the new vogue of documentary, the docu-soap, was cheap and simple and virtually everything shot was broadcast c) low and decreasing viewing figures for ‘serious’ documentaries compared to the higher ratings of docu-soaps. One of the first was Driving School in the late 1990s which made Maureen Rees a household name and pretty much set the scene for future programmes d) with the ballooning time to fill on air as 4 terrestrial TV channels in the UK mushroomed into hundreds, TV became mass produced, the time to fill dictated the content and quality was invariably reduced for quantity with opinions sought rather than facts found to fill the available space – opinions being less likely to be sued for. So 30 years on we live in an age of opinions and comments, which have crowded out balanced factual reports.
Alternative facts aren’t lies by the way, they are just selected facts by an observer often to make and support their view and from which a particular conclusion can be drawn. Little Red Riding Hood at first only saw only what she wanted to, the cape and basket, it wasn’t until much later she saw the teeth and nose of the wolf. This is the criticism of the media today, seeing only what they wish. We need some that see the cape and basket and some that see the nose and teeth (not always with such an obvious end but you get my point).
At present balance is lacking. Trump said, and I don’t think any of us can disagree with this, none of the media liked or wanted Trump as the President – he was pretty much unanimously ridiculed. His win was greeted with horror and disbelief and his opponents, of which there are many, took to the streets. Trump won the election but lost the popular vote, and so needs to tread carefully. Tolerance is required either way. Tolerance of Trump and his supporters with fair and balanced coverage, and tolerance by Trump of the many in the States who didn’t support him.
My advice to Trump – carefully craft your speech, that way you won’t give your opponents such an open and obvious goal and lose your good points at the same time. View press conferences as a football game, and accept you’re up against Chelsea not Accrington Stanley. This should help stop you letting in own goals and getting angry with yourself.
To the media – you are an incredibly educated and able bunch, but are you now hunting in a pack? It is time to have a truce period, a period to report objectively on what’s happening and remove any personal views and emotions. If Trump is so bad he’ll fall quickly, he won’t be able to blame an antagonistic media. For the public like underdogs, they don’t like to see someone getting an unnecessary pasting, especially if they think it could be unfair. He does have a lot of support in the country, you underestimated it once and he got elected, what’s to say you’re not underestimating it again with who knows what consequences.
Sadly during the press conference Trump didn’t manage to draw a line in the sand and set a truce. His conference was too long, meandering and wasn’t in my mind precise enough. He did however start the briefing with a clear message – ‘this is my briefing to the nation with you the press present’. It’ll be interesting to see if viewing figures increase for the briefing and if people go direct to the source. In an age where time is a valuable commodity you could save yourself plenty of time by just watching the hour and not reading countless papers and watching hours of news.
At his rally in Florida he told the people gathered “the media have an agenda and it’s not your agenda”. That’s a powerful statement. His tactics not dissimilar to Michelle Obama’s famous quote “they go low you go high”, only Trump, by the look of things, is aiming to do both; going high and over the head of the press with a direct press conference to the nation and going low with rallies and tweets direct to his supporters.
This will be one almighty battle between the President and the media. For all concerned would it not be wiser for both to have a period of reflection rather than an all out war? David with his stone and sling might just win, he has before.