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President’s confrontational relationship with the media

JESSICA ZHOU | Evergreen reporter

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The Foley Institute hosted its annual media and politics conference to discuss how the polarization of political parties and journalism have contributed to President Donald Trump’s “contentious and confrontational” relationship with the media.

Matthew Eshbaugh-Soha of the University of North Texas and Joseph Uscinski of the University of Miami were guest lecturers at the conference on Monday.

“It’s not an overstatement to say the transition is stark,” Eshbaugh-Soha said about the change between administrations. “The relationship with the media is especially fraught. The news media is labeled as the dishonest party for being too critical of him.”

Eshbaugh-Soha noted the historically contentious but symbiotic relationship between the president and media. He pointed out George Washington’s expressed dislike of newspapers.

Washington wrote in the original version of his Farewell Address that newspapers “teemed with all the invective that disappointment, ignorance of facts, and malicious falsehoods could invent, to misrepresent my politics and affections—to wound my reputation and feelings—and to weaken, if not entirely destroy, the confidence you have been pleased to repose in me.”

Self-segregating partisans and the speed information spreads through social media fuel fake news, Eshbaugh-Soha said. Confirmation bias and ad revenue also fueled the rise of fake news in a time of extreme polarization and a journalistic business model dependent on clicks, Uscinski said.

The new precedent Trump set through his high activity on Twitter did not seem to be a sustainable strategy, Eshbaugh-Soha said, though he said he recognized it could be effective in going around national mainstream media.

Past presidents had attempted to accomplish this by going to local outlets and selectively giving interviews.

“Most presidents bemoan an uncooperative press,” Uscinski said. “Trump is entirely antagonistic.”

Uscinski said roughly half of all people across the political spectrum believe in conspiracy theories, which can successfully take root for dispositional and situational reasons.

He said President Trump had built a campaign centered around xenophobia and anger at the political class, which was as successful as it was because conspiracy theories are “for losers,” or the people/person out of power.

When Sen. Bernie Sanders was a presidential nominee, his campaign was also centered around conspiracy theories, Uscinski said, with claims that the one percent had secretly taken over the nation’s economics and politics.

In the case of both campaigns, the candidates had to justify why they, as the “underdogs,” were the best fit for the job, he said.

They had to justify why Republicans should choose a man with no political experience and why Democrats should choose a self-identified democratic socialist. Both did so by utilizing conspiracy theories, which media readily covered because it was attention-grabbing material, Uscinski said.

The quality and future of the media is a joint responsibility between the media themselves and the people who consume it, Uscinski said. However biased, media outlets have a responsibility to report as fairly as they can, and audiences have a responsibility to demand quality reporting on current and political events, he said.

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President’s confrontational relationship with the media