Posted: March 11, 2017 | Author: Rick Dunham | Filed under: Dunham's Discourses, Journalism Training, Rick in the news, U.S. politics | Tags: AmCham Finland, Barack Obama, Bill Clinton, China, Director of National Intelligence, Donald Trump, Finland, George H.W. Bush, Guantanamo Bay, Hillary Clinton, impeachment, Journalism, journalism ethics, Justice Department, Kellyanne Conway, Kremlin, liar, lies, lying, Matti Virtanen, New Hampshire, post-truth world, Republican Party, Ronald Reagan, Russia, Trump Tower, truth, U.S. Congress, United States, Vladimir Putin, voter fraud, wiretapping |
My conversation with Matti Virtanen, as it appeared online in Finnish.
During my latest speaking tour of Finland, I’ve been discussing the policy implications of the Trump presidency with business leaders, university students and business school alumni. But I’ve also had the chance to talk to some of the top editors in Finland about the ethical and journalistic challenges facing American reporters trying to cover a very different kind of president.
Here is my conversation with Matti Virtanen, a veteran journalist with Talouselämä. Click here to read his article in Finnish.
Q: If you look at Trump’s communications as a whole, what do you think is the main difference between his and a professional politician’s rhetoric?
A: Trump’s rhetoric is more colorful and less “politically correct” than an average politician. He seems to enjoy being incendiary and provocative. He never fears the consequences of his own words.
Q: Much of political discourse is full of exaggerations and embellishments, and statements that are meaningless or “not even wrong.” Where do you draw the line that differentiates all this from lying?
A: Lying is intentionally or knowingly saying something that is untrue. It is the same as the distinction between a killing and a murder. Murder is killing with malicious intent. Lying is telling falsehoods or untruths with malicious intent. Saying that 3 million “illegal aliens” voted — and all voted for Hillary Clinton — is untrue. Once you are told it’s not true and you keep saying it, it’s a lie. (Or if you knew it was untrue when you first said it, it’s a lie.) The difference between Trump and typical politicians is that Trump’s supporters do not hold him accountable for not telling the truth. Average supporters and his advisers will lecture the press, saying you are “taking him too literally.” It’s dangerous territory for the media and for politicians when the truth is a philosophical concept and not an objective reality.
Talking Trump in Finland.
Q: What are the most obvious lies that Trump has expressed in office? (Three examples will do, let’s forget the campaign lies for now.)
He falsely stated, over and over, that he had the biggest Electoral College landslide with Ronald Reagan, when, in reality, Barack Obama (twice), Bill Clinton (twice) and George H.W. Bush all had more. He stated without evidence that Obama tapped his phones in Trump Tower, something flatly denied by the FBI and the former Director of National Intelligence. He claimed, without offering evidence, that Hillary Clinton won the popular vote only because 3 million illegal immigrants voted for her. He said she won New Hampshire because of “massive” voter fraud. Elections officials in the states he mentioned all denied his claims, which he has repeated over and over since then. Also, he said more than 100 former Guantanamo Bay prisoners were released by Obama and have returned to the battlefield. (All but nine were released by Bush.)
Q: How is the system equipped to counter lies from the White House?
A: The media ecosystem is not set up to deal with serial lies from public officials, or, as Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway called them, “alternative facts.” Trump’s strange relationship with the truth has left reporters in an uncomfortable position: report his claims factually, as you would with most public officials, and become part of a disinformation or propaganda campaign — or state that the president of the United States did not tell the truth, which makes many Americans believe that you are taking political sides and are part of “the opposition” to Trump, as Trump aide Steve Bannon puts it.
Q: Why is he getting away with lies better than his predecessors, who were also not quite immune to the syndrome?
A: Many of Trump’s supporters say it is just “Trump being Trump.” They think it is refreshing to have a “politically incorrect” president. Some find it entertaining to see the establishment ridiculed. Thus far, none of the falsehoods seem to have harmed Trump’s public standing. His approval rate has changed relatively little since it dipped during his first week in office, despite a barrage of reporting on false statements from the president.
Speaking at an AmCham Finland “Brief on the Go” in Helsinki.
Q: What is the threshold that would trigger a formal, legal investigation of the president’s lying?
A: Either a Democratic-controlled Congress (in two years at the earliest) or a lie on a sensitive national security subject, such as his relationship with the Kremlin or possible blackmailing of him by Vladimir Putin or Russian intelligence.
Q: How long can the Republican Party remain united in defense of presidential lying?
A: Party leaders are following their followers. As long as Trump’s support among rank-and-file Republicans remains above 80 percent, as it has been since he assumed office, Republican elected officials will be cautious in they criticism. Some Republican elected officials have dismissed some of Trump’s statements as incorrect (such as his allegations of voter fraud or his claims about wiretapping), but they have not broken with Trump politically. As long as Republican voters do not abandon Trump, he will maintain a base of power in Congress.
Q: How likely is it that we are going to see an impeachment process against Trump?
A: It won’t happen as long as the Republicans control Congress — unless there is evidence that he sold out the United States to Russia for business purposes or under threat of blackmail. There is no evidence of that now. Short of that, it won’t happen in the next two years. I think it would be a mistake for Democrats, should they take control of Congress in 2019, to immediately initiate impeachment proceedings. It would look like crass politics. It would be smarter to have oversight hearings and see where the evidence leads.
Q&A in Helsinki
Q: What if the Department of Justice refuses to appoint a special prosecutor? Does the Congress have any way around that?
A: Excellent question. Congress can’t appoint a special prosecutor, but it can create a bipartisan investigating committee or empower an independent, bipartisan commission. I think the commission approach is the most likely. It will be less inflammatory and more likely to get at the truth, quietly and over a longer period of time.
Q: How would you rate Trump’s lying if you compare it with the untruths from Russian and Chinese governments?
A: Trump’s relationship to the truth is similar to Putin’s. They both say things that are demonstrably untrue. With the Chinese government, there is a lot of “partisan spin,” but rarely does the government say things that can be easily contradicted. One way or another, an American president doesn’t want to be compared to Putin or other authoritarian regimes when it comes to credibility.
Q: What about the personal level: how do you feel about the situation?
A: I feel that it’s a tough time to be a reporter. You must have a thick skin and be willing to be bullied and threatened. Thus far, no harm has come to an American reporter, but many of my former colleagues have been subjected to online harassment and even phone calls at their homes. The old rules of fairness apply to our reporting, even if the norms of truthfulness are shifting. Reporters have to adjust if they want to maintain their integrity and shed light on the words and deeds of public officials.
Pay no attention to the man behind the podium.
Posted: March 6, 2017 | Author: Rick Dunham | Filed under: Global Business Journalism, Journalism Training | Tags: Alexis See Tho, Barack Obama, Donald Trump, GBJ, Global Business Journalism Program, Hailey Branson-Potts, Houston Chronicle, Los Angeles Times, Mark Potts, Multimedia Business Reporting, multimedia journalism, New York Times, Oklahoma, Pakistan, Perry Daily Journal, Pulitzer Prize, San Bernardino, Tsinghua School of Journalism and Communication, Tsinghua University |
Mark Potts speaks about the L.A. Times’ video editing process for coverage of the San Bernardino shootings at the Tsinghua School of Journalism and Communication. (Photo by Alexis See Tho)
By Alexis See Tho
“It was an organized chaos,” recalled Mark Potts, a video editor at the Los Angeles Times, describing the scene in the newsroom when photographs, videos and Twitter posts poured in from the San Bernardino shootings two years ago.
Potts and his wife Hailey Branson-Potts, who is also a journalist for the L.A. Times shared the drama of covering a breaking news story of global significance with Tsinghua University’s multimedia reporting class. Branson-Potts and Potts were part of the Times team that received the 2016 Pulitzer Prize, the top award in American journalism, for breaking news reporting.
“In the back of your head, you’re thinking, this is what I went to school for. You train and work your whole life so when you get into these situations, you don’t mess it up,” Potts added.
The prize-winning young journalists spoke to Global Business Journalism Program students in Professor Rick Dunham’s Multimedia Business Reporting course on March 1. Branson-Potts worked for Professor Dunham as an intern in the Washington bureau of the Houston Chronicle, where she covered the 2009 inauguration of President Barack Obama, among other national stories.
Professor Dunham uses the coverage of the San Bernardino shootings as a “best practices” case study for using social media in reporting. (Photo by Alexis See Tho)
The December 2015 shootings in San Bernardino, California, made international headlines when 14 people were killed an American man and his Pakistan-born wife. U.S. President Donald Trump has cited the shooting as a reason why he is seeking to restrict immigration to the United States.
Branson-Potts did live reporting on Twitter from the shooting scene, talking to the police and interviewing victims’ family members. And for days she stayed put in San Bernardino to get more information on the ground. It’s important to always be ready for moments like that she said.
“I have a ‘go-bag’ in my car,” Branson-Potts added, where she keeps a pair of jeans, comfortable shoes, make-up and supplies for at least a day.
But there are some areas that cannot be prepared ahead of time and only real-life experiences can be the teacher. Branson-Potts was answering a student’s questions whether news organizations train journalists on how to face situations such as the shooting.
“There’s no psychological training in newsrooms,” said Branson-Potts, who have worked and interned at news organizations such as the New York Times, Chicago Tribune and the
Hailey Branson-Potts explains to the class her first few live tweets from the scene of the San Bernardino shootings. (Photo by Alexis See Tho)
She added that although her editor did ask how she was coping when she was on the ground in San Bernardino for days, the answer would always be “I’m fine.”
“You don’t want to be pulled out of the story,” Branson-Potts said.
Although she has worked for big names in America’s newspaper industry, Branson-Potts’ first taste of the world of journalism came when she was 15 when she worked on the printing press for her hometown newspaper, the Perry Daily Journal, one of Oklahoma’s smallest daily newspapers.
“They only printed 2,000 copies everyday, but it was real experience (for me),” Branson-Potts said. She advised students to find as many opportunities as they could to work in newsrooms.
“When we hire young people at our paper, we don’t care what grades they made at school, we don’t care what classes they took. We care about their resumés and the stories they produced as an intern,” she said.
For shooting and editing videos, Mark Potts’ greatest education came from watching bad movies during his student days while working at a movie theatre.
He added that a journalist’s work attitude is of utmost importance. “I approach things like there’s nothing below me,” he said, “I’ve done videos for subjects that secretly…I don’t want to cover. But I go in there and say, ‘I’m going to make a really good video. I’m going to cover this like I’ve covered the inauguration and a protest.’”
For both of them, they repeat the mantra: There’s no story that you’re too good for.
The Hailey and Mark Show (Photo by Alexis See Tho)