One of President Donald Trump’s common refrains during the 2016 election that continues to this day is “Fake News.” His labeling of collective media outlets and those they employ has presented journalists with a choice: to stick to decades-old White House press briefing decorum or play by a new set of rules.
Enter the new normal at the White House press briefing. President Trump gives an opening statement, which includes information on the latest issue, praise for those working on that issue and self-adulation for the work he’s done. Then he turns it over to the press, where ratings and retweets abound — it’s good TV. While no-nonsense questions come from the first few raised hands, the president eventually calls on journalists who want a piece of his spotlight. Instead of data-driven questions that require information-filled answers, there’s often a shift in focus to make the question about the person asking it. These types of “questions” fall into three categories:
• The statement. At the beginning of the global pandemic, CNN’s Jim Acosta “asked” the president: “Some of the officials paint a rosy picture of what is happening around the country. If you look at some of these questions — do we have enough masks? No. Do we have enough tests? No. Do we have enough PPE (personal protective equipment)? No.” Acosta answered his own questions. He used his time to grandstand and make it clear that he disagreed with what the president had said.
• Fake News Debate. When the president deems a statement, question or accusation as unfair, he calls it out. This usually leads to a debate about who lies more.
• Grandstanding. The Fake News debate can escalate further, but only a few are willing to engage and blatantly talk over the president.
The problem for many journalists and politicians who’ve chosen to get in the ring and “fight” with Trump is they try to mimic his style and fail miserably because they’re being inauthentic. What journalists should do is stick to good old-fashioned journalism. Not only is it best to let the details do the talking so the American people can come to their own conclusions, but doing so would also force Trump to change his style or risk being ridiculed.
Beverly Hallberg is a senior fellow at Independent Women’s Forum and president of District Media Group.