JO 304: Why is this News? Journalism under President Trump

Donald Trump in the Headlines (photo: Max Wolpoff)

There I sat in northern Maine, on a road trip to call a hockey game. I was behind on my favorite podcast — the Steve Dangle Podcast — and trying to catch up episodes from the previous week.

This is a podcast about hockey. Though the three Canadian hosts are known for flying off with certain topics (like Pokemon), hardly ever do they mention politics.

It was November 12, 2016, just four days after Donald Trump won in a shocking end to a seemingly-never-ending election year. To end their show on November 8, Steve Dangle said “the world might end tonight.” Two days later, there they are reading messages from listeners that, now more than ever before, they need shows like this in their life.

LIFE UNDER TRUMP

From the Ziegfeld Follies campaign to his continued rallies after Inauguration Day, is there anything that happens to him that is not news?

Every tweet is news. Every word uttered by a surrogate is news. Every major world event (even the ones that do not happen) comes back to what Trump has to say.

I want to help you, a writer like me, understand the landscape we are in today. Journalists need to understand the following eight realities when covering news in Trumpland.

1. @realDonaldTrump is a must follow

In the interest of full disclosure, I blocked Donald Trump on Twitter shortly after he announced his candidacy for president. I did not want the drama and commentary clogging my sports-oriented timeline. Too bad.

I read somewhere early in the campaign that history students 50 years in the future will see chapters in their textbooks devoted to tweets from the 45th president. Given how the news is covering his timeline, that sounds about right.

Whether his tweets are the story, or they supplement the story, Twitter is now the direct mouth-piece of the President of the United States. So long, fireside chats.

This also offers direct access to someone powerful, as emphasized by athletes who took to Twitter when the “Access Hollywood” tape was labeled “locker-room talk.”

2. Non-politics writers are not safe

Other industries cannot ignore the president.

During the campaign, Tic Tacs and Skittles were unaffectionately dragged into the political arena with comments from Trump and Donald Trump Jr.

Remember when he tweeted about Carrier and his effort to keep jobs in Indianapolis? Carrier could not ignore that.

Sports cannot escape the shadow of the U.S. president, either.

While still in the campaign, The Toronto Star asked Toronto Maple Leafs forward Nazem Kadri — one of two active Muslims (Nail Yakupov) in the National Hockey League — about Trump’s proposed temporary immigration restrictions for Muslims. He did not mince words.

Once the New England Patriots won the 2017 Super Bowl, it became talk-radio fodder when players announced they would not go to the White House. Some were for political differences (not the first time that has happened), others were for personal reasons. It was a strange day in Boston sports on the whole.

Even if Trump is not an active part of the story, his policies could be.

Early in the campaign, BBC Sports ran an analysis piece about how Trump’s “America First” policies could affect the U.S in bids for sporting tournaments. Los Angeles is one of two cities under consideration to host the 2024 Summer Olympics, and there is a joint bid between the U.S., Canada, and Mexico to host the 2026 World Cup.

A Cinco De Mayo weekend boxing fight between Saul Alvarez and Julio Cesar Chavez Jr., boxers of Mexican descent, ran a commercial featuring both boxers running through a wall. Promoter and former world champion Oscar De La Hoya said in a New York Times article about the commerical that, “the idea of a wall was a direct hit to Donald Trump.”

3. Your favorite shows are no longer an escape

From House of Cards and Veep to Scandal and Madame Secretary, television feeds off political drama. For years, shows were a safe spot to put the wildest possibilities that writers can think of.

When writers of TV shows met with the New York Times for a roundtable in the Sunday paper, they lamented how tough it is to not mirror the news.

Scripted television has a pressing question: do they play it safe, or do they push the boundaries?

When you wind down at the end of the day with your favorite drama, be on guard. The show you watch could be news the next morning.

4. Does “non-partisan” exist anymore?

The March for Science coincides with Earth Day. It is normally a day for scientists to tout their findings and their work, and environmentalists to promote sustainable living.

2017’s march had a decidedly anti-Trump tilt.

Trump did not help his approval ratings with this crowd by issuing an Earth Day statement emphasizing economic growth.

Reddit users are familiar with “The Hitler Rule of One”: if someone says something controversial, it can and will be brought back to Adolf Hitler. Today, there is a “Trump Rule of One”: either he agrees, or it is fake news.

With this kind of polarization, previously non-aligned parties will be forced to pick sides.

5. At least SNL is funny again

A common complaint with this cast of “Saturday Night Live,” as with many casts before it, was its lack of humor. Jokes did not click, sketches were hardly gut-busters, and there was a lack of recurring characters people enjoyed.

Enter Donald Trump and his Merry Band of Misfits, suddenly that changes.

Alec Baldwin comes on to play the president, Kate McKinnon plays a slew of characters from Kellyanne Conway to Jeff Sessions, Melissa McCarthy drives Sean Spicer’s podium, and Beck Bennet lays on the Russian accent for his Vladimir Putin impression.

With Jimmy Fallon hosting a few weeks ago, SNL went live coast-to-coast for the first time in its 41-year history. Ratings are so good, in fact, that “Weekend Update” will be produced as a show of its own throughout the summer — normally a break for SNL.

6. Satire is back (for now)

There are two groups of people who cannot get enough of Trump, for different reasons: his supporters, and comedians.

CBS’s “Late Show with Stephen Colbert” got a massive boost with the arrival of Trump. Colbert occasionally brings back his previous persona from his Comedy Central show, “The Colbert Report,” to present the news. Trump and his staff are the subject of Colbert’s gesture-heavy monologue most nights, with many earning funny alter egos.

Comedy Central’s newest show, “Full Frontal with Samantha Bee,” does not hold back on The Donald. Bee attacks just about everything like she does here.

“The Daily Show with Trevor Noah” is having as much fun as it can, with such segments as “Ain’t Nobody Got Time For That” and “Who is the Real President?”

The cable network debuted a new show in its lineup, “The President Show,” April 27. The permise is that Trump is so upset with how late-night comedy portrays him, that he will host his own show.

Despite his early insistence in not covering Donald Trump, John Oliver’s “Last Week Tonight” on HBO succumbed to pressure to a smashing success. Unlike the other shows, Oliver is not limited by commercial advertisers, meaning his big stories can go for 10 minutes, or 30.

With more and more people disillusioned by the political world, comedy became the great escape. The relief could only temporary, as one analyst at the Washington Post points out.

7. Expect More “Doom-and-Gloom” Content

It seems every day on the Washington Post Twitter, a writer offers a new prespective or analysis on what is actually happening inside the Beltway.

This one from April 22 is about Nathaniel Persily’s article in the Journal of Democracy titled, “Can Democracy Survive the Internet?”

Another one from that same day, describes Trump’s political strategy as “open-mic-night-at-the-improv rehtoric of quarter-baked promises and vows carried over into the presidency and foreign policy.”

The Trump name carries easy web traffic. Of the most read articles on the Post that day, the top-three carried “Trump” either in the headline or in the picture.

The Post even has a regular podcast devoted to the president’s actions: “Can He Do That?”

The Washington Post is just the example I use here. Pick your favorite major news source and see their coverage of Washington. One theme seems to ring in each outlet: this sucks.

It might suck, but the people still need their news. These new policies have real affects on real people, and journalists are at the forefront of information-gathering.

8. Canadian sympathy

In finding a way to finish this, I thought back to a few years ago.

My brother and I discovered this Candian comedian, Rick Mercer, when we got the CBC while vacationing in Vermont. At the end of his weekly program, he walks around Toronto to film his rant.

One video in particular comes to mind: Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s decision to scrap the census in favor of a voluntary survey.

Mercer characterized Harper as a leader with questionable ideas, but a loyal following. Years later, Trump drew his ire.

See the similarity?

CONCLUSION

I finished that podcast while walking around Alfond Arena. In one hour, I would broadcast Boston University’s women’s hockey team’s rematch with the University of Maine. Players were taping sticks, playing pre-game soccer, and enjoying their time together.

The whole weekend, there was no mention of the election. As upset as we might have been, we all had other stuff to worry about.

When writing news pieces, I try to keep in mind two things: people do not have all day to read the news, and the news does not define their life — it is a small part of a larger picture.

That helps me cope with Donald Trump. He is a small part of the larger picture. Perhaps it will help you, dear writer, as well.

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Published by

Max Wolpoff

Journalism student at Boston University ('19), lifelong fan of the Washington Capitals. Current broadcaster for the Boston Blades of the CWHL. If you ever need him during the week, Max is probably studying for something.

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