Covering Trump Responsibly

How do you report on all of his scandals without making people numb?

For journalists working in the Trump era, the Ancient Chinese curse “may you live in interesting times” applies more than they might have initially thought. Sure, an erratic, scandalous, and dysfunctional presidency led to skyrocketing cable news ratings and large bumps in subscriptions for a few national newspapers. But the press’s non-stop coverage of the president’s every tweet has come with a paradoxical result: the more they report on his offenses, the less egregious those offenses appear to many Americans.

Despite the millions of viewers who tuned in during November’s impeachment hearings, only 48 percent of the nation now supports impeaching the president. Think about it. For the last four years the country has been inundated with stories about Trump’s shady business practices; his bragging about sexually assaulting women; his paying off porn stars; his brazen violations of the Emoluments Clause; and his attempts to obstruct justice. New revelations that he pressured Ukraine to damage the reputation of a potential political opponent hardly seemed like a bombshell. It just made sense. If nothing else, the oversaturation of Trump coverage over the last three years has led to the steady dilution of shock value over the president’s wrongdoing.

Herein lies a challenge for the media. News organizations have an obligation to cover Trump, of course, but they also have an obligation to produce original reporting and fresh analysis, rather than amplify his outrageous acts and statements. At the same time, they have to make sure that the rest of the problems facing the country—and the world—are not ignored.

That’s where we come in. At the Washington Monthly, we’re doing these two things at once: making sense of the news everyone is talking about while reporting the news everyone should be talking about.

In the last couple of months, for instance, Julie Rodin Zebrak has written about impeachment, but from a foreign policy perspective. U.S. officials, she argued, would be hindered from tamping down corruption and promoting the rule of law overseas if Congress doesn’t pursue impeachment at home. James Bruno has gone beyond the palace intrigue surrounding hotel magnate-turned E.U. ambassador Gordon Sondland and chronicled Trump’s habit of offering cushy ambassadorships to high-paying donors instead of qualified diplomats.

Meanwhile, Anne Kim has explained the severe, underreported effects of hospital consolidation and why 2020 Democrats need a plan to address this issue effecting the healthcare of millions. Nicole Lynn Lewis has shown how American colleges and universities are neglecting the needs of student-parents, who make up 22 percent of all undergraduates. Lisa Khoury has documented Lebanon’s uprisings from the frontlines and explained how the mass protests are helping a famously fractured country form a cohesive national identity.

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Eric Cortellessa

Eric Cortellessa is digital editor at the Washington Monthly.