From The Archives: A 2008 Conversation With Barbara Walters
A conversation from the archives with Barbara Walters about her 2008 memoir "Audition," a story of family challenges, celebrity gossip and blazing a trail in TV news.
It is hard to find anyone happy with how the media are covering this year’s presidential race. In a speech last night, President Obama blamed the news industry for not covering the substance of the campaign. “A job well done is more than just handing someone a microphone,” said Obama. Media analysts say journalists took too long to take Donald Trump seriously and press him on the facts. Others argue reporters have unfairly dismissed senator Bernie Sanders. And with Twitter, candidates can now by-pass the media and distribute their message more easily to millions of voters. A look at political reporting and the 2016 presidential campaign. Diane and a panel of guests discuss political reporting on the 2016 presidential race.
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. It's no secret that having Donald Trump on a news program dramatically increases ratings. But media critics warn that in efforts to increase audience and page views, news organizations are loosening their standards. Here to talk about media coverage of the 2016 presidential race, Frank Sesno of George Washington University who frequently sits in for me, Jim Rutenberg of the New York Times and Stephen Dinan of The Washington Times.
MS. DIANE REHMJoining us from a studio at the University of Pennsylvania, Kathleen Hall Jamieson of the Annenberg Public Policy Center. Throughout the hour, of course, we will welcome your calls, questions, comments, 800-433-8850. Send us an email to email@example.com. Follow us on Facebook or you can send us a tweet. And welcome to all of you.
MR. FRANK SESNOThank you, Diane. Great to be here.
MS. KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESONThank you.
MR. STEPHEN DINANGood morning.
MR. JIM RUTENBERGGreat to be here.
REHMGood to see you all. Frank, let me start with you. President Obama really delivered a stinging commentary last night on the media. You've made some of the same points.
SESNOYes. I think that the president was critical of the media and he said, let's slow it down. Let's look at issue. You owe it to the people. I recognize your public trust in effect and I think, and I agree, that that is something that confronts us. I think we need to be careful that we don't paint with too broad a brush. Donald Trump is not merely a creation of the media. The media did not carry all the responsibility for that or any of the other horserace-driven coverage.
SESNOBut we now are in a 24/7, 365-day a year election cycle and so the default position, especially in talk television and talk radio is to go to the horse race. Who's ahead? Who's got momentum? Who's insulting whom? And what that does is it dumbs down the campaign. It allows the candidates to have running room where they avoid the issues at a time when they are so important and one of them, in particular, Donald Trump, seems to give them virtually no heed. The public is the loser in this.
REHMKathleen, you believe the media have really done a very poor job covering this campaign. Give us some specific examples.
JAMIESONWell, first, we know experimentally -- my colleague Joe Cappella and I have done the work -- that when the focus on the race in news is on the tactics and the strategies, we activate cynicism and we depress learning. One of the things that we're seeing this year is that the tactical coverage is being driven not simply by the press, but by Donald Trump who's given open access to the airwaves to comment on his own success in the polls.
JAMIESONWe should be spending this time in news interrogating his positions on issues, not letting him tout his prowess and, by the way, misleading people about what the polls actually say.
REHMInteresting. And Jim, on Sunday, your colleague, Nicholas Kristof, wrote a mea culpa of the media's coverage of Trump. How do you see it?
RUTENBERGI think that we're seeing a lot of that. My colleague David Brooks did something similar a week or two ago. And so there's a sort of self-examination taking place within the news media where people say, well, you know, I don't really know many Trump voters so I didn't get it. So when I saw this, I thought it was kind of a joke. And so that's a problem, but the bigger problem, I think, was that Donald Trump's announcement wasn't treated the same way Marco Rubio's announcement was or Chris Christie's announcement was, with the same requisite, here he comes, here are his positions, here's what he believes.
RUTENBERGYou know, it was sort of a -- he got a different kind of coverage in the beginning.
REHMHow do you explain that difference? What do you mean?
RUTENBERGI literally have talked to kind of a very not-knowing kind of political person who worked for Rubio who said they were told on the outset by TV, you know, you guys are gonna get -- can expect this, this and a nice profile, some critical coverage. There's a sort of set formula when a candidate comes on. Donald Trump didn't have any of that because they just, okay, this is fun. It's Donald Trump and we know this isn't going anywhere. You can go back and -- CNN did a nice video montage showing the early coverage and it was everyone laughing and have a good time with it because if he wasn't a real candidate, it was kind of fun.
REHMStephen, how do you see it?
DINANWell, so we spotted Donald Trump fairly early on as a phenomenon for a couple of different reasons. Number one is that he came out talking about immigration and this is an issue I've covered for 20 years. It's an issue that a lot of folks in the press have come to late, but it excites Republican voters, a certain segment, and a fairly large segment of Republican voters, it is their voting issue. You can even -- folks on the campaign trail, voters at the voting polls I talked to say, if it weren't for that, Marco Rubio would have been their choice.
DINANThere are a number of single-issue immigration voters out there and once Trump started talking about that, it was clear to us he would be a phenomenon to be reckoned with. The question was, could he go beyond that? And, you know, obviously, he has gone beyond that issue and excited Republican voters over a number of other things. But so I agree with what Jim said. There was definitely -- there was a distinction between how some people viewed his campaign at the beginning, as a serious campaign talking about issues, even if what he was saying about those issues may have enraged a lot of -- a large segment of the voter population, it did attract a significant portion that had to be reckoned with.
REHMStephen Dinan, he's political editor of the Washington Times. Tell me about Bernie Sanders, Jim Rutenberg. A number of progressive media watchdogs have said, you know, he was not treated seriously when he announced and has not been given fair coverage throughout the campaign.
RUTENBERGI've been thinking about this a lot lately. There's definitely something to that, to the extent that there was a mini Trump phenomenon with Sanders. He's like my grandfather. Isn't that funny? Wow, people seem to be reacting. There's populous anger. So but I don't know if it was entirely a negative for him because what he also did -- and I'm not sure that Bernie Sanders has had enough -- or as much scrubbing and hard coverage that a real candidacy would get. I think his supporters might say, yeah, we would welcome that because we think he could hold up to it.
DINANYeah, you know, I actually went back and looked at the coverage that he got and, at the time he announced, even progressive groups weren't necessarily thrilled with him. They were still, at that point, pushing for Elizabeth Warren to get into the race. There were actually groups that we have quoted in our Sanders' announcement story saying, well, we're happy to see this progressive warrior there, but we're not giving up. We still want to see Elizabeth Warren. So they, themselves, weren't necessarily taking him seriously at the beginning.
DINANI think it's clear that he's earned the amount of coverage and earned his space in the presidential election. Obviously, he's earned it through the votes he's gotten. There's always this tension at the beginning between a candidate's viability and their announcement and he's earned his place where he is now.
REHMBut on the other hand, The Washington Post has denied that its coverage of Bernie Sanders has not been fair.
SESNOThe Washington Post may have denied that its coverage of Bernie Sanders has not been fair and, you know, I think that what's more important, actually, is looking at the overall narrative around these candidates. And the narrative around these candidates, around Bernie Sanders, was he's not viable. We can't afford any of his policies. He's up against the Hillary Clinton machine. I can't tell you the number of times I've watched cable news channels and they put the graphic up of the delegate count, explaining that the mathematics aren't there, that she's got all the super delegates.
SESNOSo the momentum story for Bernie Sanders frames it from the first word as this kind of Sisyphean impossible task that suggests to voters that they should count him out and yet, the voters in state after state are showing they're doing just the opposite.
REHMAnd to you, Kathleen, what about the coverage of Hillary Clinton, the inevitability of her candidacy and the fact that she is a woman in this race?
JAMIESONThe amount of access that the Democrats have gotten compared to the amount of access to the Republicans is stark and interesting to the extent now that the press is assuming that Sanders is effectively out of the race, even as he wins. That tactical frame is increasing the likelihood that the press doesn't give him a chance to make the case that might insure that he continues to be viable. So to the extent that there's an inevitability frame around this and it's driving access, it's hurting one candidate not the other.
JAMIESONThe "why can't Hillary Clinton attract young women" story has been paired against the "why is Bernie Sanders attracting the young" story, not to examine their difference in positions on issues, but rather as a tactical game story that's not helpful. It activates cynicism and depresses learning.
REHMYou know, it's been very interesting because Bernie Sanders, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump have appeared on the Sunday morning shows, but on the Sunday morning shows, it used to be that you had to be there and now, Donald Trump has gotten away with being there by phone, Jim. How has that changed the picture?
RUTENBERGI'm fearful that will change the picture, by the way, going forward for other candidates, too. He's started a new precedent. I mean, the Sunday morning shows where this is not radio, we can have them in person, wow, TV. So you saw their body language. It was a grilling, especially "Meet The Press" and "Face The Nation." So now Donald Trump changed the dynamic. Chuck Todd at NBC says he's not going to do it anymore. But, you know, I won't be surprised if you see Hillary Clinton calling in a lot more herself.
SESNOI did the CNN Sunday show for seven years. I don't ever recall having a presidential candidate on the phone. They didn't want to be on the phone, by the way. They wanted to be seen. We wanted them seen. We wanted body language. We wanted that conveyed. You also, when you are on a telephone with somebody, you have less control as the host than you do when you're face to face because someone can just filibuster and use all the time.
REHMWhich is why I love to have people on Skype. Frank says no. He's director of the School of Media and Public Affairs at George Washington University. Short break here, we'll be right back.
REHMAnd welcome back. We're talking about media coverage of the presidential candidates of Donald Trump, Bernie Sanders, Hillary Clinton, Marco Rubio. We are now at a point where we see that hosts or those who are interviewing, even the board of The Washington Post and The New York Times, do not push back. Jim, I'm wondering, when a candidate like Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump says something, how many in the room or face-to-face in an interview say, wait a minute, I want to check the facts on this?
RUTENBERGI've seen people try -- not to go back to the phone but, briefly, sometimes you'll see -- that's why these phone interviews become such a mess because you'll see a George Stephanopoulos say, but -- but -- but -- and they can't get it.
REHMAnd they can't get in.
RUTENBERGThey can't get it.
RUTENBERGBut, that said, I do think that people are doing a little -- I will say that people are doing a little more pushback than maybe we, and myself included, give them credit for. But there could -- there must be a lot more for all of these candidates, a lot more.
REHMNow, Kathleen, when Donald Trump responds with changing the subject or, don't worry, I'll take care of it, what do you think the press position and role should be?
JAMIESONWell, let's take that Washington Post editorial board meeting as an example. The -- one person in the room asks a really good question, should the U.S., if Trump were president, use tactical nuclear weapons if it would benefit our troops' safety against ISIS? Trump responds briefly, I don't want to use -- I don't want to start the process, and then segues off to, he's a counterpuncher, and he starts talking about Rubio and Bush. The reporter comes back and says, this is about ISIS. You wouldn't use a tactical nuclear weapon against ISIS, question mark? And Trump says, I'll tell you one thing, this is a very good looking group of people here. Could I just go around the room so I know whom I'm talking to?
JAMIESONAnd then he gets introductions around the room and the question is dropped.
JAMIESONThere's much good follow-up in that Washington Post editorial board meeting. They did it on issues of Baltimore, for example. But boy did they drop the ball on the use of tactical nuclear weapons.
SESNOThe same thing happened when he was on CNN and where he first said that there would be riots if he showed up to the convention a hundred votes short and he was denied the nomination. And there was no follow-up to that. My eyeballs almost fell out of my head when I saw that. A major presidential candidate is essentially threatening violence if he doesn't get his way. If the process works, as the process, you know, a competitive process is to work, there needs to be, with all candidates -- and we've all had the frustration when we interview candidates, where we ask a good question and they offer the answer they want to answer. They are trained to do this, by the way.
REHMOn the other hand, I think...
SESNOBut we've got to lead.
REHM...you may be letting yourselves and me off a little too easily. Stephen Dinan, has Trump or Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders been interviewed by The Washington Times?
DINANNo, not in this election cycle.
DINANThat's not -- we've -- a columnist has interviewed Trump, but we've not had a news interview with any of those candidates. But, look, I don't know that -- I think given the saturation of these candidates on the air, in newspapers, online at this point, you sort of have to take journalism as a whole -- yes, in these instances when Trump, you know, talks about NATO in The Washington Post editorial board, Wolf Blitzer spends three follow-up questions that night in this -- I guess, actually, it was filmed that afternoon -- on his show on CNN, following up on the NATO issue. So, taken as a whole, you know...
REHMBut what kind of response did he get?
DINANWell, I understand that. But I mean at some point you have to let the candidate -- if he's not going to answer, he's not going to answer. And after the third -- so just to be clear, you know, the third follow-up like that, that was the Tim Russert tactic, right? He would put a clip up on the -- on "Meet the Press." He's say, what about that, senator? The senator would dodge the answer. He'd say, yes, but what about that clip? The dodge would be -- it'd happen a third time, he'd give him one last chance and then he'd move on. At that point, if the voters -- they get to make their decision. Did he answer the question or not? You have to trust voters at some point.
REHMAnd how about saying to the candidate, very directly, sir, you have not answered the question?
RUTENBERGI think that needs to happen a lot more. But I also think we have to talk about not just the interview settings but the story selection. So what I've been heartened by -- and I think we'd argue, it should have happened earlier -- and I -- I'm -- I will not plug my own paper too often, but we -- I was glad to see David Sanger, our foreign policy expert, sit down with Donald Trump and ask him, what is your policy, sir? And it was a very focused interview. We need to do it with Hillary Clinton as well, as Mr. Dinan and I were speaking about. But, you know, you mentioned the deportation force. Wow. Okay, let's not just assume he's not -- he doesn't mean it. That's what he's running on, you know...
REHMHe's going to deport 11 million illegal aliens.
RUTENBERGSo what's that -- there should be a ton of stories. What's that look like? If he won't talk about it, let's talk to Congress, let's talk to military, let's talk to National Guard, aggressively. So the interview setting is always going to get you so far with any presidential candidate.
REHMAll right. So Bernie Sanders and his presentation, as you look at that, Frank Sesno, is it all the media that have simply decided he could not beat Hillary Clinton and therefore have sort of pushed him out of the way?
SESNOWell, of course, it's not just the media. I mean, I -- obviously, this is the background noise from a lot of the political chattering class as well. It's coming from within many in the Democratic Party. But those in the Democratic Party who are offering that are Hillary Clinton's loyalists. And there are lots -- and have been lots of pieces, I think, on how Hillary Clinton herself is a weak and vulnerable candidate at a lot of different levels. So there has been that coverage.
SESNOWhat concerns me about the Sanders coverage is the relative profile of it. Where is it placed? How often do we hear it? Especially in talk television and talk radio, which drives so much of the coverage agenda and represents the disproportionate amount of information that Americans get. Sanders is below the fold, if I can use that term, in that context. And his issue mix doesn't go much beyond, in most of that coverage, who he's appealing to, the demographics...
SESNO...that Kathleen Hall Jamieson was talking about a short time ago. It's a real problem.
REHMKathleen, how can the media -- how should the media be dealing with the candidacy of Bernie Sanders?
JAMIESONThe media should not, until we have the numbers to suggest that he cannot get the nomination, should not be writing him off. By not providing him access and not covering what he is doing in the same proportion as Hillary Clinton, it is in effect creating a self-fulfilling prophecy. And that's unfair. It's a tendency of the press overall to treat the candidate who's behind in the polls that way, the candidate who's behind in the delegate counts that way. But, in the process, it's narrowing the chances for the electorate to understand these candidacies. The same is true, by the way, of John Kasich.
SESNOMay I just say one thing, Diane, because it's very interesting. So here we have this odd situation where Trump gets all this coverage and we say, oh, he's roaring because he's got all this coverage. On the other hand, we're saying, well, Bernie Sanders hasn't gotten much coverage. But what's he doing? He's winning. So it's -- we, you know, there's a dynamic that goes way beyond what the media does and when they do it and it's called the public.
DINANYeah, I would also add in about the Democratic Party, right from the beginning, with these small number of debates, which have been very instructive and produced a lot of the conflict, the policy questions that we've seen on the Republican side, and started to see on the Democratic side once they finally added in more debates. But -- so the party itself started off with somewhat of a clamp on that. And the press may have taken a cue from that.
RUTENBERGAnd, you know, I found myself watching the coverage a couple days ago on Bernie and it was about the delegates, the math that can't get him there. And I was like, oh, that's okay. The math isn't there. And then I said, wait a minute. I've been -- I was hearing the same thing about Trump six months ago. Why am I believing it now? And so we, as a news media, have we learned nothing? Is it time to question -- we -- my new rule going forward, question every assumption about everything.
REHMWell, what does that actually mean when it comes down to day-to-day coverage?
RUTENBERGI think it's not falling -- it's what we're talking about. Cover Bernie Sanders realistically, but as a real candidate with real policies.
JAMIESONAnd when the media tallies up those numbers, it counts super delegates as if they're bound, primary-voter delegates. They're not. Super delegates can swing. And as a result, those numbers create an inference that is incorrect. That is an inference of an inevitability. We saw some swinging, remember, in the Obama-Clinton race.
SESNODiane, you know, one of the things that I think needs to happen, and I think this campaign really pushes it in our faces, is media need to be especially -- I'm going to come back to talk television and talk radio -- need to be much more clear and decisive about setting their own agenda. Let's talk about immigration. Let's talk about using nuclear weapons. Let's talk about the value of NATO. And look at these candidates side-by-side. Sure, the story is a horserace story. It's a political race. But having a parallel -- and print does this very well, when it does it, can do it very well, but as I say, television and radio does it much, much less well -- but sticking with those issues...
SESNO...holding the candidates to account to those issues again and again and again would make a very big difference I think.
REHMWhat about the fact that Hillary Clinton is declining to speak on so many media outlets, Jim?
RUTENBERGI think, A, I'm surprised there hasn't been more kind of carping from the media about that. I think that she needs to be pressed way harder on that. I'm -- but I'm also surprised that she doesn't -- she hasn't taken her own lessons from Trump, that he's showing, the more you talk on media -- free media, the more you can kind of get away with. But at least she's -- I'm surprised she's not opening up a lot more.
REHMWhat about that issue of free media and how much Donald Trump has gotten, Steve Dinan?
DINANYou know, I'm going to plug Jim's newspaper for him. That wonderful graphic earlier this month -- and I have it here in front of me -- the free media calculation. Donald Trump, essentially $1.9 billion worth of free media. Hillary Clinton second with about $750 million of free media. Look, it's to Donald Trump's credit -- and this goes back to what we were talking about earlier -- when he's -- he's willing to phone in and folks are willing to take those phone-in interviews, he can do a lot of them.
DINANAnd this is a guy who, you know, he used to have a weekly spot doing, I believe it was a phone-in on Fox -- the morning program on Fox News Channel, I think it was every Monday. Here's a guy who, that's what he did as a media personality essentially. He did those sort of interviews. He was very comfortable doing them. And now continues doing that. He's a master. He's cracked the way that we cover campaigns.
SESNOBut how about ignoring some of his tweets? I mean, not every one of his tweets and outrageous comments in social media needs to pick up and drive the next news cycle, which he's expert at doing as well.
REHMKathleen, what about charges that coverage of Hillary Clinton have been sexist?
JAMIESONThe pundit talk that criticized Hillary Clinton for shouting was highly problematic because, if you look at the decibel level of the various candidates, she's not shouting, for example, relative to Bernie Sanders. It reminded me of The New York Times piece in the Obama-Clinton race in which Hillary Clinton was in the headlines, I believe, with a sub-head, characterized as cackling. When Rudy Giuliani, who was also the frontrunner that year, also had a very odd pause pattern before a very odd laugh, there just wasn't any language to characterize that.
JAMIESONBack to your earlier point, however, one of the morning shows at one point said, look, if any of the candidates want to call in, we'll take their calls. To the extent that candidates don't call the networks, I think they're missing an opportunity. And I think Hillary Clinton's lack of accessibility is a story in its own right that deserves additional scrutiny.
REHMAnd, of course, after her March 15 win in Florida, Joe Scarborough told her to smile. Brit Hume said she was shouting angrily, Jim.
RUTENBERGYou know, and this is just the beginning. And what I'll be on the lookout for is, there's going to be a lot of legitimate criticism. I'm sure there's -- we're going to -- there's mostly male -- or, I don't know what the numbers are, but there -- it is a male, slightly dominated -- less than it used to be -- field. So we'll see a lot more of that ahead and we'll debate it.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Frank Sesno.
SESNOWhat will the media do and how will the media cover it, when Donald Trump unleashes his promised barrage and attack at Hillary and if it goes in a typically sexist way? Will the media parrot that and then try to knock it down, which then gives it the legitimacy it needs? Will the media ignore it? That's just going to be a very interesting thing because what Trump has promised would suggest that it's going to get especially ugly and, if it stays close to his pattern, will continue to be a very sexist kind of thing.
DINANI suspect the media will do all of those. Certain outlets will do some, certain outlets -- I think we do run into a problem of a very broad brush when we're talking about media coverage...
DINAN...of the campaign.
DINANYou know, there are -- Frank earlier divided, I'm a print guy and I will defend print. I think we're doing as well as we can with the size of this -- both fields that we have, the Republican field in particular, that we had at the beginning. What I haven't seen and I would like to see is a study that looks at the amount -- I guess, the absolute number of policy stories. There's no question there are more horserace stories and more food-fight stories because of Trump tweets and whatnot.
DINANWhat I don't know is whether we've at least had the same number of policy stories and, you know, for voters who are interested and they can go find that, it may get drowned out in a lot of folks' minds by the food-fight stories. But as long as we're at least still doing those policy stories at the rate we were before, I think we deserve some credit for that.
RUTENBERGAnd, but, to that point though, I worry that even without Trump in this race, that some of those stories are diminishing in the eyes of the business sides of our organizations. So what we haven't touched on is there's the whole economic underpinning of all of this.
RUTENBERGAnd I worry that those policy stories that, when I was a pup in the business, that's what you -- we did. They do -- the ratio has gone down a little bit.
REHMA little bit or a lot?
DINANThere's some sense here that we might be able to do essentially what Donald Trump has done to the press. Tony Blankley used to be our editorial page editor at our paper, and I...
DINAN...I remember him talking to a group of students once and he was saying, look, when he was Newt Gingrich's press secretary, they never got coverage. The Republicans were in the minority in the House, they never got coverage. They discovered that they needed to call a press conference and say, minor -- or the majority leader is a jerk and here are our policy prescriptions. And we would all show up and cover him saying, the majority leader's a jerk and then, in paragraphs five, six, seven, maybe get into their policy prescriptions. Donald Trump essentially has figured out how to do that with us and other candidates have figured out how to do that with us. Maybe it's worth us including policy in the food-fight stories.
REHMWe haven't talked about social media, Frank.
SESNOSocial media is this entirely fascinating parallel universe and it's colliding with the so-called traditional media. So we sit here and we say, we should do this, we should do that. But what happens in social media is people go where they want, they say what they want. And, in a certain sense, where Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton and traditional candidates are punished or held to account in traditional media because those are the rules we play by, those often can be the very things that lift their boats in their social media. It's inconceivable to me that the clout and the profile that Trump has got, that he would get absent that social media, that allows him and his six or seven-million followers to create a separate echo chamber that competes with ours.
REHMDo you agree with that, Jim?
RUTENBERGI don't -- I -- I'm -- I go back and forth about that. Because I started my -- in this business, in the New York City tabloids. And Donald Trump was the master of those tabloids. And this was when they were super-strong newspapers. He owned them. He would call in stories, they would go on to the front page. And this is like the exaggerated version of that.
REHMJim Rutenberg, he is media columnist for The New York Times. And we'll take a short break here. Your calls, your comments when we come back. Stay with us.
REHMAnd welcome back as we talk about press coverage during this presidential campaign. Here with me, Frank Sesno of George Washington University, Jim Rutenberg of The New York Times, Stephen Dinan of The Washington Times, and joining us from the University of Pennsylvania, Kathleen Hall Jamieson, professor of communication, director of the Annenberg Public Policy Center. All right, here's an email, sorry a tweet from Eduardo. He says you are ignoring a news anchor with the highest viewership, Jorge Ramos. He would not give Trump a pass. Jorge was on this program just a few days ago, and I'm so sorry I was not here to meet him, but it does seem to me he did push back, Stephen.
DINANHe did, but that raises issues. Jorge Ramos is an advocacy journalist. He has a point of view, and he essentially considers himself a defender of the Hispanic community, which is very valuable. When you come with that point of view, you're able to be very pointed, and you don't mind if you cross lines that other people, other journalists who view themselves as objective, wouldn't want to cross. So he had a freedom that a lot of other journalists won't give themselves.
REHMOkay, but, you know, that really gets to me. If you look at Donald Trump, he has crossed every single line that we can imagine in a presidential campaign, and therefore, Kathleen, it seems to me that perhaps the news media must expand its own approach to covering a candidate like Donald Trump.
JAMIESONI think what the news media needs to do is redouble its efforts to ensure that facts are being honored in answers by all candidates. So when a candidate says that Iran isn't buying planes from us, one ought to say do you know what the embargo looks like. One needs to follow up consistently, as one of the debate anchors did very well when a candidate misstated the assumptions underlying common core, and the debate moderator informed him that actually came out of the states, it didn't come out of the federal government.
JAMIESONBut there's one piece of this that I think we're missing. Donald Trump has suggested he wants to loosen the libel laws to increase the likelihood, presumably, that he could sue journalists. He characterizes journalists as good and bad. He says news articles have hatred in them, and he keeps journalists in a gated pen in the back of his audiences, in ways that -- and then he shouts at them and has them shout back to him when he's holding press conferences after his victory speeches.
JAMIESONThese are unprecedented changes in the ways in which candidates have treated -- in which candidates have treated the press, and I think they are worrisome.
RUTENBERGThat's where I could bring this back to Jorge Ramos is that he did break Trump's press rules by standing up at a press conference, famously.
RUTENBERGAnd confronting him. He was escorted from the building. And now Trump is saying I want an interview with Univision because Univision has a gigantic audience he needs. But they're -- in the face of that, we have seen what Kathleen just mentioned, the networks have agreed to go along with certain conditions that I am surprised they've agreed, and I wrote that yesterday. The -- they're not allowed to approach the rope -- him at the rope line, where he's having conversations with his supporters.
RUTENBERGHillary Clinton does not have that rule. Bernie Sanders does not have that rule. I don't know what they agree, though, because they want to be there because they need the ratings.
SESNOI want to point out, Diane, if I could.
SESNOIn a shout-out to Fox for the way they've done I think the presidential debates. One of the things that they've done, to Kathleen's point, is they have used graphics to put up on the screen statements or indications of fact in framing a question and phrasing the question to some of the candidates, principally to Donald Trump. That is something that I'd like to see a lot more of, where that evidence is put up and incorporated into the question.
REHMKathleen, do you agree?
JAMIESONYes, I do, and also putting clips of the candidates making prior statements, showing those statements made in the voice of the candidate that contradict each other and then holding the candidate accountable by asking which of those, if either, do you support, is I think a strong journalistic move. It's been made effectively in a number of debates. It needs to be made more in cable and broadcast news.
REHMAll right, let's go to Sheila Bartow in Florida. You're on the air.
SHEILAYes, I'm wondering why John Kasich is being ignored when he's a much better candidate than Ted Cruz or Donald Trump.
REHMAll right, how do you all see the press handling of John Kasich, Steve Dinan?
DINANSo it's fair to say that journalists have had a difficult time dealing with the size of the Republican field from the beginning of the campaign. We talked about this earlier, right, at some point...
REHMBut now it's smaller.
DINANNow it's smaller, but as we talked about earlier, you know, John Kasich does not have a path to a first ballot win at the convention. His hope is for a contested convention, where he can fight it out, and I think it...
REHMBut why should that make a difference? He is still in the race. Doesn't it make sense for the press to cover and for the public to hear his ideas even though he's not a frontrunner?
DINANSure, the short answer is yes, absolutely. Now, you know, how much of that do you -- how much attention do you give to somebody at that level, where his chance of winning is much lower, versus a Donald Trump, the gorilla in the room, who you have to pay attention to because his chance of winning that nomination and being the person the Republicans send in to November is higher.
DINANSo there's absolutely a balancing act there. I'm not going to say that the press has gotten it right. Certain outlets might have, certainly outlets might not have. But overall, this is what we were talking about earlier, when we said Bernie Sanders is not eliminated from contention, so you should treat him, you know, as a viable candidate and give him that fair attention. John Kasich, he's not eliminated because of the possibility of a contested convention, but his chances are much lower. So at what point -- how do you evaluate and balance that level of coverage?
JAMIESONBut note the dynamic. I was listening before the Ohio primary to one of the morning shows, and Donald Trump called in and delivered what amounted to an attack ad against John Kasich. Now the moderator is put in the position of either rebutting the attack ad, which the moderator did not do, or putting Kasich on the air. Well, Kasich hadn't called in. Now in essence Donald Trump has attacked John Kasich, you don't know whether legitimately or not because there's no journalistic function there that is evaluating the status of the claims, and Kasich has been disadvantaged.
JAMIESONWere I John Kasich, I would call in to every show every time I heard Trump on the air, who had called in, and see whether or not they give me equal access.
SESNOThat's part of the problem, though, with the live television. You get one person at a time unless you turn every appearance into a debate.
SESNOTommy Thompson was on television this morning. He's making the rounds stumping for Kasich. Kasich's actually getting some pretty good airtime these days.
DINANBut the one thing we can't lose sight of is winning states brings you more press, and that is fair, and he's not winning states.
REHMAll right, let's go to Houston, Texas. Nicholas, you're on the air.
NICHOLASHey, I'm just calling because it's -- the guy kind of just mentioned it right before I called. The fact is if the media gave Bernie Sanders half the time that they give Trump, he would be winning. I mean, Bernie Sanders just won the five largest landslides in primary history, and they don't talk about him. Oh, he's just a fringe candidate still.
REHMI wonder if, Nicholas, have you been listening to the entire program this morning?
NICHOLASYes, I have.
REHMOkay, and you did hear us talking about Bernie Sanders a fair amount? Go ahead, Frank.
SESNONo, I mean, look. I think that the story coming out of the last set of primaries, where Bernie Sanders swept, was just that, Bernie Sanders swept. And the problem that we have, and I think we've heard this a couple of times this morning, is the fact of the matter is we are in a horserace stage. This is a political campaign, and it's a race. We use that term for a reason. It goes on too long. That's a problem. That's a problem in the system. That's not a problem in the media.
SESNOAnd what changes, what makes the news, is who's winning and who's losing. So that becomes, disproportionately perhaps but nonetheless inevitably, the story. Bernie Sanders won big races, he got credit for that, he still has an uphill climb with the math. We know that.
SESNOSo how do you balance it? That's the challenge.
REHMHere is an email from Robert in Newport News, Virginia. He says, what disturbs me about media coverage is the lack of fact-checking. For example Trump talked about Mexicans raping women. Very rarely did one hear the truth about rape statistics. If every time the media, including your show, Diane, reported that Trump or whoever said X, Y, Z, the media also reported that there's contrary evidence to X, Y, Z. Kathleen?
JAMIESONI wish everyone would bookmark the major fact-checking sites, factcheck.org, which is run at my policy center, Politifact, the Washington Post fact checkers and also pull up the fact-checking from the major news outlets so that when they hear a claim, they can go and check to see whether or not it's already been checked. In the Internet age, we have the capacity as viewers to be our own fact-checkers in that we now can get direct access even if a news story isn't doing the checking. Someone else probably is. I encourage viewers to use that route.
REHMAll right, and here's an email from Michael in Plano, Texas, who says, you all are ignoring Senator Cruz. He also is not being questioned on his extremism. Steve Dinan?
DINANWell, that's interesting. I guess I'd like to see the exact evidence for that. I think again, the Republican field, with so much focus on Trump and whether he's being held to account, the other candidates, we had the caller earlier who said Kasich's being ignored. This caller obviously says Cruz is being ignored from a different direction, not that he's the best candidate.
DINANBut so look, I know I sound like I'm defending the press a lot here, but we do not have unlimited resources. We had a large campaign. We now have -- we're in the point where we do have results that we have to cover. I guess I would just say when we move to the point where we do have two candidates, you're going to get all of these policy stories.
SESNOYes, after the conventions.
REHMBut don't we need to know exactly what all these candidates are saying before we get to the two, Jim.
RUTENBERGYes, though I think -- I do think there's been some scrutiny of Cruz more than -- than is being acknowledged here. There have been some stories. There will be many more, especially watch him win another batch of states, and you'll see even more. I do think that.
REHMAll right, let's go to Toledo, Ohio. Nate, you're on the air.
NATEHi Diane, you're the best. We're going to miss you so much.
NATEI just wanted to go ahead and say I kind of disagree with the narrative that the media is the problem here. I disagree with Nicholas Kristof. I find that this is kind of a theory that's put forth by conservative columnists, essentially to divert attention away from the fact that he's winning because people are voting for him, and people are voting for him because he's keyed in to white racial resentment. And that never gets brought up in the media, you know, because it's taboo to bring it up. But it's true, you know.
RUTENBERGI think he's keyed into a lot of different things. I talked earlier about immigration, and there's no doubt he's keyed into that. Look, one of the things, I've been to a number of these states ahead of him during the voting, and one of the things, talking with voters at the polling places and at the rallies and whatnot, a lot of them don't even really listen to what Donald Trump says.
RUTENBERGWhat they do is they look at the people who they dislike in politics, all of those people they dislike in politics dislike Donald Trump, and therefore they're convinced that Donald Trump is the guy they should be supporting. Essentially Donald Trump is a lot of voters just saying bleh on the entire Republican Party.
REHMAnd you're listening to the Diane Rehm Show. Kathleen, how would you change the rules as to how the press covers presidential candidate?
JAMIESONI would adopt the Chris Wallace rule for all interviews. The candidate has to show up, we need to see the face on screen, we need to ensure that nobody is feeding the candidates line while on a telephone that one can't see. One needs to watch the nonverbal reactions, and one needs to give the moderator the control that comes with seeing the person across the set from you and being able to interrupt when the person isn't answering a question and then repeatedly follow up.
JAMIESONSecondly, I'd increase the likelihood that everyone who ever asked the candidate a question is armed with the fact-checking on all of the candidates' widely repeated and often repeated claims so that when they're raised in that new venue, they are not reinforced, there's a context placed around them that is fair and accurate that increases the likelihood that voters will, to the extent that they care to do so, judge the quality of the candidate in part by his or her consistency with facticity.
DINANThere's another really interesting thing that we could do on the major television interviews is the anchor could make room next to him or her, whether it's a Sunday show or anywhere else, for an expert in a field so that when the candidate is being engaged, they're being engaged not only by an anchor who's got to be into everything and maybe a mile wide and an inch deep, I'm completely referring to myself here. Everybody else...
DINANBut also it's an arms control person or somebody who's worked in the field in humanitarian relief or who's actually been out and worked in a hospital or knows what people encounter when they try to deal with the health care system. The reality check that goes to candidates is not only about confronting them with facts, but it's confronting them with people who know and who live the issues that they're trying to turn into a simple soundbite. That is a good antidote for that.
REHMAnd what would you do, Jim?
RUTENBERGI would like to see, on let's say a CNN, not to pick on them but they get picked on a lot in this conversation.
SESNOI'll defend them.
RUTENBERGBut if you have Donald Trump on a ton during the day, I think you need to have set -- some kind of set, regular fact-checking thing on your air, or sorry it's cable.
RUTENBERGLike immediately and constant. So, you know, just keeping that running tally that's front and center for viewers. If they want it, you know, maybe it doesn't have to dominate everything, but it needs to be there more, just in the constant presence.
DINANThose are all great suggestions. I guess I would like to see us try and re -- you know, I've said that Donald Trump has cracked the way that we cover campaigns. I'd like to see us try and maybe use some of those tactics back. I'd mentioned earlier, you know, combining the actual policy stuff inside of the food-fight story. So not just a five-paragraph item on, you know, somebody called somebody else a loser, and that person called the other guy a jerk, but then go ahead and actually do something. Presumably they're calling each other -- they're insulting each other over some policy. Go ahead and make the bottom half of the story the actual details of that policy.
DINANIt's, you know, it's the Tony Blankley model. You give them their dessert, but you give them some spinach, as well.
REHMAnd I'd like to see more attention paid to all the candidates, even before we get to those top two. That's going to affect lots of people's thinking.
SESNOIt is, it is. I do want to put in a plug, though, here for the public's responsibility. We're really good at beating ourselves up in the media, as we should. We should hold ourselves to account. But this information, as Kathleen said, is out there for the public. There are all these fact-check places. There are all these articles that it's not hard to Google any of them on candidates and issues. I think we also have to say that in an age now where the public, everyone, is their own executive editor, their own executive producer, we have responsibilities as citizens to spend a little bit of time finding the quality information in journalism that's out there, like we find a quality mattress before we buy it.
REHMI do agree with you. Frank Sesno of George Washington University, Jim Rutenberg of The New York Times, Stephen Dinan of The Washington Times, Kathleen Hall Jamieson of the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania, thank you all so much for being here.
REHMAnd thanks, all, for listening. I'm Diane Rehm.
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