ONA18: The Trump Effect on the Fourth Estate

The relationship between U.S. presidents and the press has always been complicated, but in President Donald Trump’s case, the complications began as soon as he descended the golden escalator at Trump Tower to announce his White House candidacy.

According to panelists during the Online News Association (ONA18) annual conference held in Austin, TX during September 13-15, reporters who have openly faced Trump have gotten noting but hostility in return.

“Not all presidents have struggled with the press, certainly Richard Nixon had his enemy list – but if you go back and forth, Nixon, he didn’t have Fox News, he didn’t have the alt-right internet or the national movement of right-wing media to back his action. Trump is empowered by that, the fact there is no Walter Cronkite, there is no place in the public square now, and Trump has used this to his advantage, to the tune of 35 percent of the American public,” presidential historian Douglas Brinkley said during the ONA18 session titled “Fake News and the Fourth Estate: How History Will Rate this Media Moment.”

“Fake news,” “enemy of the people” and “dangerous and sick” are just a few of the insults that Trump has hurled at the media and reporters that he deemed as hostile.

“There is always natural tension between the executive branch of the government and the fourth estate, that’s how our system is built. But ‘enemy of the people’ is an entirely different phrase, it comes from a demagogue playbook and it’s a go-to position. When the book is written about the Donald Trump presidency, it’s going to be called ‘Unprecedented,’ because everything he has done is unprecedented, and this crosses a line,” LBJ Foundation President and CEO Mark Updegrove added during the session.

According to Civil Foundation CEO Vivien Schiller, the news industry is also trying to figure out how to deal with these issues. “After one of Trump’s usual attacks on the media he was talking about the Washington Post being at war with him, at the editor-in-chief Martin Baron famously said ‘we are not at war, we are at work’, and that has been what we journalists all felt like – but I think that there is a sense now that this is not enough. It’s not enough simply to keep doing our jobs as journalists, and now there is a growing movement how we need to think differently – taking the President on,” Schiller pointed out during the panel.

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