Some Donald Trump supporters love every controversial thing he says. Others are occasionally offended by the Republican presidential front-runner’s rhetoric but overlook his most incendiary remarks because they buy into his vision of restoring the greatness America has supposedly lost.
There’s a third group, too — people who just don't believe Trump actually says much of what he reportedly says. They think the “dishonest” media, as Trump calls them, must be making this stuff up or, at the very least, taking his comments badly out of context to make him sound worse than he really is.
Meet the unofficial spokesman for this contingent: An unidentified man that Fox News Channel’s John Roberts found while conducting man-on-the-street interviews on the night this month when protesters forced Trump to cancel a rally in Chicago.
This fellow seemed lukewarm about Trump — he preferred Chris Christie and Ben Carson before each dropped out — and he said he had come to hear the billionaire with his own ears because he couldn’t trust what he had heard in the press.
“I want to see what he has to say unfiltered by the media, instead of little clips,” the man said. “Like when he said about Muslim immigration — he said ‘until we figure out what the hell is going on.’ When you turn on news clips, all you hear him say is everything up to that point. You know, let me just hear it unfiltered.”
People can debate whether the fact that Trump’s proposed ban on Muslim entry to the United States was temporary, rather than permanent, makes it any better. But the point here is that this guy viewed the distinction as important, felt the media had not made it clear enough, and therefore viewed all reporting of Trump comments as unreliable. He’s surely not alone.
What can the media do to assuage these concerns? One idea is to do more of what The Washington Post and New York Times did last week — post full transcripts of their Donald Trump interviews. Television networks already do this, of course, but in many cases — such as when interviews are live — there is nothing extra to share. I’m talking about publishing transcripts of interviews from which journalists would ordinarily pluck just a few quotes or sound bites for their stories.
Most people won’t read them, of course. There’s a reason reporters distill long conversations to the most important points. In fact, distillation is theoretically why people pay for news — so someone else will do the work of gathering and prioritizing more information than the average person has time to consume.
But with trust in the media wallowing at a historic low of 40 percent, according to Gallup, Americans are increasingly suspicious of the distillation process. They think journalists aren’t so much curating information as cherry-picking quotes and facts that promote an agenda. In a fragmented news environment, they are sometimes right.
Some voters, like the man Fox News interviewed in Chicago, seem enterprising and engaged enough to actually seek additional context if it’s available to them. The media ought to serve these voters and, while they’re at it, signal to the rest that there is nothing to hide by putting transcripts out there for everyone to see.