Two months into his presidency, there is still confusion in the media regarding how to handle covering the Trump administration, and perhaps more specifically, how to handle Kellyanne Conway. Conway – who serves as Counselor to President Donald Trump – has been something of a foil to media outlets, often offering statements that directly contradict what the president himself has said. In fact, Conway’s real talent lies not in her perfection of the art of the spin, but in her ability to leave reporters (and often viewers) with more questions at the end of a broadcast than they had going in.
Perhaps the biggest problem in dealing with Conway is that there has been no concise, unilateral strategy within the media. CNN tried to confront the issue when it decided to boycott Conway from its Sunday programming schedule, yet even that strategy fell short when one of their most prominent reporters, Jake Tapper, interviewed Conway in the same week.
To some, the idea of simply barring Conway is an easy way to stop the flow of misinformation. But this is not a viable solution for covering any topic, no less national politics; a journalist’s primary job is to report what is happening in the country, and to simply ignore one of President’s most trusted advisors runs counter to this responsibility.
However, this is approach is problematic for a number of reasons. Not only does the decision to ban Conway further alienate Trump supporters (in their eyes, this feeds into the narrative of an adversarial press), but it also signals to fellow members of the press that it is okay to take the easy way out. The reality of the situation is that while sparring with Conway is no easy feat, it is certainly not impossible.
Rather than ignore her, the press must continue to question her. We must push, prod and poke Conway whenever she pivots, and call her out whenever she flip-flops. This, of course, requires coming into interviews prepared. We cannot continue to say things like, “well that claim runs counter to what Donald Trump said on the campaign trail” and expect Conway to dismiss it with a simple wave of a hand.
Instead, the press must force Conway into substantive debate by having quotes, dates, facts and figures prepared pre-interview and on hand during the process. We should be taking advantage of the face that Conway will do “any show, any time” and escalate pressure and hold her accountable on each television appearance.
This also means the media as a whole must self-reflect. In coming up with a “strategy” for dealing with Conway, journalists should observe what they, and their colleagues, have done right in interviewing Conway, and (perhaps more importantly) where they fell short. But simply accepting defeat is an insult b to our profession and an aversion of our duty to the public.
By just pushing Conway – who essentially functions as President Trump’s mouthpiece – away, journalists are doing the public more harm than good. They are responsible for facilitating these discussions and for acting as the public’s window into politics. Without the media there to aggressively and consistently question Conway and other members of the administration, who will hold administration members accountable? Yes it is Conway’s job to spin the facts, but it is our job to set them straight, no matter how difficult that may be.
The first, and most prominent, tenant in the Society of Professional Journalist’s Code of Ethics is to “seek truth and report it,” and there is simply no way journalists can do that if they decide to cover their eyes and ears anytime they come across a formidable opponent.
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