Reporting on the Turbulent Trump Administration

Trump cahos

April 19, 2017 | By Tierney Plumb |


On Wednesday, April 19, the National Press Club Journalism Institute, the Club’s professional training affiliate, joined forces with another non-profit dedicated to journalism education, the National Press Foundation, to host a half-day symposium on covering politics in the era of “fake news”.

“The best defense against the charge of fake news is to make every effort to make sure your news isn’t fake,” said Chris Isham, CBS bureau chief. “Resist the temptation to take the bait. Our job is to cover the news, not become the news.”

Two panels consisting of beat reporters, editors and industry leaders—across radio, print, TV and radio—weighed in.

Denied Access to the Top

Caitlin Emma, Politico Pro education reporter, said a “common complaint” among reporters across her beat is that “a lot of questions” that would have been easily addressed under the Obama administration “are going unanswered.”

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has tight security and has yet to agree to do an interview with a national policy education reporter like herself, she noted.


Betsy DeVos

According to Travis Tritten, Washington Examiner and Military Reporters and Editors association VP, “access hasn’t been great” in reaching Defense Secretary James Mattis, whose first Pentagon press conference was last week.

“The good news is we haven’t seen any hard evidence of this ‘war on the press’ moving over the Pentagon. Defense is Trump’s chosen enterprise. He’s giving military a longer leash to operate and do its own thing,” Tritten said.


Margaret Talev, who covers the White House for Bloomberg Politics, said she opts to shy away from the word “lie” in her news coverage.

“If you stay away from loaded words, the story tells itself,” she said. “The easiest thing in the world you can do is say the president said this, but in fact, the statistics say the opposite.”

She’s noticed that fact checking is required at a higher level of intensity than in past administrations.

“In a two-minute interaction with the president you can walk away with a pile to sift through,” she said, referring to Trump’s short speeches packing in all kinds of information that needs checking, from Chicago murder rates to job figures.

Coral Davenport, who covers energy and environment policy for the New York Times, said she needs to debunk scientifically inaccurate claims quickly, and she’s called upon colleagues at her outlet to shoot over the latest infographics to help communicate the truth. “I need to always be on my toes. It’s a healthy workout,” she said.


Coral Davenport

For George Condon, White House Correspondent for the National Journal, this is the ninth presidential administration he’s covered, and he said lying seems almost “second nature” this time around. “They lie about the silliest things,” he said, giving the example of the administration saying the president is at a golf course for “important meetings” and “not to golf.”

“Hello, everyone has cell phone cameras—there he is, golfing,” he said.


In the age of surveillance and “cyber-insecurity,” said Davenport, “we are just really, really careful what we put digitally in any email.”

Her nervous sources at the Environmental Protection Agency are preferring phone calls as the means of communication, she said.

According to Matt Lee, AP correspondent and president of the State Department Correspondent Association, a “good rule of thumb” is to forget about using encrypted apps like WhatsApp to reach sources and go back to the basics, of meeting people in person. “Preferably off campus and as far away as you can get is the safest way,” he said.

Others including editors and bureau chiefs offered insight on the state of political coverage in times like these. Here are some snippets:

Terry Murphy, C-SPAN: “Our programs involve calls, and we find if we let the public come in and ask questions, they challenge. They know when people are saying things false or misleading. We let our viewers make decisions and challenge guests on the talk show.”


David Lauter, LA Times bureau chief said that as a print journalist, he has the advantage of more time to produce content than a network journalist, but these days “that amount of extra time is smaller than what it used to be. We are doing a lot more real-time posting.”

Rachel Smolkin, CNN digital executive editor of politics: “Our job is to ask tough questions of anyone in power, Democrat or Republican.” Also, “it can become easy in an environment where we are constantly labeled as fake news to become numb. But our job is to continue to listen.” When the administration is complaining about coverage, her job is to hear them out, she said, adding if “we think they have a point, we need to think about how we can reflect that moving forward.”

Mark Memmott, NPR standards editor: “We need to double down on accuracy, fairness, honesty, respect—all the core principles in everyone’s ethics handbook. Continuing to do our jobs is our best defense. If we continue to do that eventually we will win back some trust.”

Carrie Budoff Brown, Politico: Being accused of fake news means the “onus is on us to make sure we are even more careful than we have ever been because the spotlight is on us.”


That means putting tougher requirements on anonymous sourcing and remembering the rules of journalism 101 still always apply, she said. She wants to keep Politico a non-partisan newsroom, and as a result, she “loathes” when reporters voice their opinions in 140 characters or less via Twitter. “I don’t care what you think. I care what your reporting shows.”

14 thoughts on “Reporting on the Turbulent Trump Administration

  1. After all we’ve found out about Hillary’s state department and Global Initiative, the Podesta emails, DNC emails and the Obama administration – particularly the politicizing of just about every department that was never questioned by the main stream media – this is hysterical! Suck it up buttercups!

    • Well done, Susan!

      The torrent of fake news by “the usual suspects” makes this “opinion” piece laughable.

      The berserk news media are making a spectacle of themselves while their hubris blinds them to how they are perceived by the formerly “silent” majority.

      They can huff and puff, but nobody of consequence believes their hysterical bloviating.

  2. To begin with, semiel’s exclamation, “Suck it up buttercups!”., adds nothing to the conversation and is actually demeaning to the article’s author, Tierney Plumb; but given that semiel’s apparent guru is President Trump, it is not surprising.

    During the presidential campaign, it could be said that the Press failed in its mission to pursue the truth. Part of the problem, of course, were the outrageous tweets and other irruptions from Trump and his campaign that overwhelmed any opportunity for either verification or reflection. Fortunately, the Press is beginning to assert itself and shows signs of living up to its mandate of counterbalancing the enormous power of the executive branch.

    The challenge for the electorate is to approach all political statements with at least a modicum of skepticism. Without skepticism, voters are no better than mindless lemmings, heedless of the pitfalls of blind acceptance.

    • I think even the MSM should have approached “If you like your doctor, you can keep your doctor. If you like your plan, you can keep your plan. Everyone will save $2500 annually in premiums” with a modicum of skepticism. I know I did!

    • BTW, my comment about sucking it up was not directed at the author of the article but to all of the whining journalists complaining about Trump and his communication skills.

  3. It seems to me when you have a group of journalists from the Washington Examiner, Bloomberg Politics, the National Journal, the Associated Press, C-Span, the LA Times, CNN, NPR, Politico, the New York Times and CBS meeting to discuss how to not make fake news, that is not fake news.

  4. Here’s something for “buttercup” Bill Britton to suck up: CNN, NBC, and CBS give Trump’s presidency 93 percent, 93 percent, and 91 percent negative coverage, respectively, according to a study by Harvard’s Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy.

    The study can be found at

    The Harvard study is a damning indictment of the massive bias in what passes for “journalism” today.

    It should come as no surprise that there is a strained relationship between the fake news press and the Trump administration because it is the news media who have created the adversarial relationship.

    And now they’re crying like spoiled brats because they can’t get the access they believe they are entitled to.

    Suck it up, fake journalists. If you want to lie with your fake news stories, then peddle them to yourselves in private memos… because the public isn’t buying your nonsense anymore.

    Note that another study finds 85% of people have abandoned newspapers to find their news in places they can trust online. My own favorite is One America News (AT&T Uverse & DirecTV carry it).

  5. I’m not exactly sure what Mr. Webster’s “buttercup” allusion means, but I’m guessing that it is a metaphor for a “lily-livered liberal,” great alliteration if nothing else. The only character in literature named Buttercup that I can recall is the bumboat woman in Gilbert and Sullivan’s HMS Pinafore. She was about age 40, female, and a contralto. I am age 79, male, and no singer. No commonality there, except for the fact that I ran a commercial shellfish boat for 15 years.
    At the end of the day, I can only suggest that you keep watching your fake news, and I’ll stay with mine. As England’s bigoted Rudyard Kipling wrote, “East is East, and West is West, and never the twain shall meet . . .”

    • Nice try, Bill… deflecting from the meat of my comment by dwelling on the “buttercup Bill Britton” alliteration. I’ll accept your “lily-livered liberal” alliteration as a suitable translation.

      But the major point you choose to sidestep is the massive anti-Trump bias to which only a “lily-livered liberal” could be blind.

      The “usual suspects” in news media are consumed with hatred for Trump as the vitriol of “journalists” bears witness.

      Get over it, buttercups. He won. Hillary lost. And she deserved to lose.

      Time to move on and stop with the fake stories about “turbulence” in the administration and “Russian connections” for which there is no evidence, yet we’re still bombarded by a steady stream of childish twaddle from a biased news media that seem to be incapable of moving on.

      Do you seriously believe Trump is getting a fair shake from the news media, Bill?

      Consider the Comey firing.

      If Trump had fired Comey on day 1, he’d have been lambasted for acting impulsively and before he was acquainted with the facts and didn’t have his Attorney General.

      So Trump fires Comey 3-4 months later and he is still lambasted by the very same people who were clamoring for Comey to be fired last July for (they claimed then) trying to derail Hillary Clinton when he revealed her massive breaches of national security and multiple acts of espionage!

      I agree that Comey acted inappropriately in his botched handling of the Clinton investigation. For that, he should have been fired by then-President Obama. But he wasn’t.

      Comey compounded his mess by lying to the American people when he suggested “intent” was necessary for her guilt on enough willful breaches of national security to put her away for the rest of her life.

      Comey may have violated laws himself when he had his department tidy up Hillary’s mess by granting a slew of her close staff immunity from prosecution in return for their electronic devices that were thought to contain incriminating evidence, which devices (as part of the deal) were subsequently destroyed by the FBI! Destruction of evidence in a criminal proceeding is a serious crime no matter who does it. Comey shouldn’t get a pass for violating the law any more than should Hillary.

      Our nation guarantees liberty and justice for all.

      High profile Democrats do not get a pass.

      Only a corrupt news media can conspire to do that.

  6. Folks,

    My last response was censored by the editor or the moderator. This one will probably be censored again. Nevertheless, I want to come to Bill Britton’s defense. I know Bill is very liberal and he knows that I am very conservative. Therefore, I want to emphatically say that he is NO Buttercup…far from it! He is a man of principle and courage. I am very proud to call him my friend. We should boycott ABC, NBC, CBS News Channels, especially CNN because they espouse FAKE NEWS! Their news is never always entirely on the money.


  7. As I do not know Bill Britton personally, I’ll defer to William Kerek’s judgement on that score.

    Perhaps we can just substitute, “feisty” for “buttercup”? Doesn’t work with Susan’s use, but substitutes nicely with my reference to Bill.

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