The evidence is out there: Foreign despots have begun using the term “fake news” — a favorite of President Trump’s — to discredit unfavorable news stories. An alarming number of Republicans in this country see negative-but-accurate stories as just another iteration of “fake news.”
So Trump’s attacks are securing traction.
For White House reporters, however, the rhetoric isn’t a top everyday concern. “The people who say this has a broad impact on society and the credibility of the media and so forth and so on, I get their point,” said New York Times White House correspondent Peter Baker at a Tuesday night event hosted by the White House Correspondents’ Association. “I don’t dispute that. In terms of my job, worried about working as a reporter in the White House, it doesn’t have that much impact. I mean, it’s just theater.” Baker said he would get “more worked up” if the name-calling “leads to specific limitations on access or our ability to do our jobs.”
Margaret Talev, a White House reporter for Bloomberg News and president of the White House Correspondents’ Association, said she has “concerns about its impact on people’s ability to trust information,” as well as the “breakdown” that it can cause in this country’s democracy. Acknowledging those problems and crusading against them, however, are different pursuits. “That’s not really our job. Our job is to report the news,” said Talev. “And it is more important than ever that people who are journalism advocates, people who are journalism activists, people who are free-speech activists, regular people who believe in this speak out and support us. We need their support and we need everybody who’s concerned about this to talk about it so that we can not always be talking about it and can be doing our jobs.”
A segment of America today, said Talev, suggests things like boycotting the White House briefings or even boycotting covering “someone who has such little regard for you.” Such suggestions represent a “fundamental misunderstanding of what our job is,” she said. “We’re not there to be liked or to be appreciated. We are there to get information and share it with the public, and if we have to do it under unpleasant circumstances, that’s okay. We’ll just do it.”
Steve Holland of Reuters noted that the “accessibility’s there, they haven’t kicked us out. We’re still in the building. We still have the pool around [Trump] at all times, so in that sense we still get good coverage.”
Another point: Baker highlighted the gulf between Trump’s pronouncements about the media and his personal approach. When the president does his rallies, said Baker, he’ll blast the media and generally create an atmosphere of intimidation toward the people who cover him. On the plane ride home, Trump will say, “ ‘Hey, everybody, how’s it going? Everybody have a good time?’ … He’s like the valet at his resort; he wants to make sure everybody’s having a good time,” recalled Baker.
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