What it’s like for the journalists who cover Trump

September 16, 2015

Donald Trump is used to being the focus of 20,000 pairs of eyes, but I’m not. During his rally on Monday night in Dallas, the front-runner for the Republican presidential nomination pointed to the area where we journalists were gathered on the floor of the American Airlines Center and asked the crowd what they thought of the media. Everybody looked at us. Everybody booed.

Still, I have to admit – with a giant exception for the egregious treatment of the reporter Jorge Ramos, who Trump’s security guards tossed out of a press conference when he tried to ask the candidate about immigration – Team Trump is refreshingly relaxed with the media.

Donald Trump interacts with attendees following his rally in Dallas, Texas, September 14, 2015. REUTERS/Mike Stone

Donald Trump at his rally in Dallas, Texas, September 14, 2015. REUTERS/Mike Stone

Yes, he hurls bitter insults at pundits and happily engages in ad-hominem attacks on writers and publications whenever an unflattering article catches his attention.

And he’s only slightly better than the other politicians who talk about the “lamestream” media and encourage their supporters to view us as a biased, lying monolith. In Dallas, when the booing subsided, he told the crowd that the “political media” was terrible, but that he still had some respect for the “financial media.”  (He didn’t name any outlets but I had to assume he was talking about us – Reuters – and our competitor Bloomberg News.)

I can say this: It feels easier – freer – covering a Trump event than trying to navigate the restrictions imposed on us by some of his peers in the political sphere.

Here’s an example: In June Mitt Romney, the 2012 Republican Presidential nominee, hosted a gathering of ultra-rich businesspeople – there were some billionaires in attendance – at a fancy ski resort in Deer Valley, Utah. He invited several 2016 presidential hopefuls to appear as speakers, and so, despite the fact that the whole conference was designated “off the record,” journalists came too. We were there to cover the candidates’ speeches. Romney’s press “handlers” tried their damndest to keep us away from everyone else.
What was that like? We were sequestered in a special “press area” in between speeches, then led from room-to-room flanked by handlers who shooed us along, tried to keep us from talking to people in the hallways, and herded us into roped-off holding pens. At one point, the well-known TV journalist Katie Couric, who was being treated more as a guest at the conference than as a working journalist covering it, encountered a group of us waiting in an empty hallway with our handlers. She asked who we were – we explained we were journalists. She beamed at us. “Aren’t you coming to dinner?” She asked. We just looked at her. Her smile faded as someone explained we weren’t invited. She wandered away.

That’s just one example of the kind of treatment we’ve grown accustomed to. Remember when Vice President Joe Biden’s staff shut a reporter in a closet at a fundraiser?

When I got to the American Airlines Center on Monday, nobody tried to control my movements. I roamed the vast arena and noticed how my press badge got me into more places than it kept me out of. No crisply-dressed Trump minions hovered around me; nobody tried to separate me from the people attending the rally, not even from the Very Important People who sat in a special section right at the front.

This may seem like a small difference, but it isn’t. For journalists, one of the ickiest feelings in the world is when some smartly-dressed agent of a powerful person informs you in sterile euphemisms that you’re being barred from doing something that in everyday life you’d have a perfect right to do. On the Trump trail, so far, that has not happened.

We journalists are used to being the objects of disdain, and we can endure a mighty lot of it. If you ask pretty much any one of us why we do this you’ll get the same answer: It’s a calling. A robust, free press is essential to a healthy democracy. We have to be able to scrutinize, investigate and figuratively disrobe and dethrone dishonest politicians. Without our nagging, who would hold them to their word, and how would anybody know about it?

There are plenty of Americans who don’t trust our motivations, who don’t believe us when we try to report the truth. That’s a problem, one Trump exacerbates when he invites people to boo us. But we can handle it. We will.

 

2 comments

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Candidates who jeer at journalists rarely win an election. It is not smart to ignore the power of the press.

Posted by pbgd | Report as abusive

Thanks for the candid essay!

Posted by JamesHerms | Report as abusive