Tuesday

October 24th, 2017

Insight

Despite the beatdown, reporters love the Trump beat

Paul Farhi

By Paul Farhi

Published March 16, 2016

TAMPA, Fla. --- Donald Trump's penchant for abusing reporters is well known. He disparages them as "dishonest,""troublemakers," and "scum," and sometimes he calls them out by name. At his rallies, he pens in the press like cattle. Any journalist who dares to wander beyond the metal barricades is tossed out.

And yet. The not-so-dirty little secret among reporters who cover Trump is this: It's a kick to report on his campaign, a constant thrill ride. They love the beat, if not the beatdown.

"He's by far the biggest story of 2016," says Byron York, the Washington Examiner's chief political correspondent, who has trailed Trump through eight states. "Other campaigns are more conventional. His events are bigger, the excitement levels are higher."

That's not necessarily an endorsement of Trump's politics. It is a statement in behalf of the thing political journalists root for most - a good story.

Since his announcement as a presidential candidate in June, Trump has been a nonstop story, from his outrageous pronouncements about Mexicans and Muslims to his surprising string of primary victories. Trump's dominance of the media's attention has been like a perpetual-motion machine, with each provocative statement attracting more attention, and more support, hence justifying more media attention.

Trump's rallies have generated not just quotable sound bites, but also arresting - sometimes literally - visuals. The events are now routinely beset by protesters who ignite angry (and occasionally violent) counter-reactions from his supporters. CNN, for example, assigned two teams to Trump's campaign events this past weekend, one for his speeches inside and another for the action outside.

Trump pumps his coverage, too, with an undeniable streak of media-savvy showmanship. For an event Sunday night at an amphitheater in West Boca Raton, Florida, he arrived via his own helicopter; the packed crowd swooned as the chopper descended over the park amid stirring recorded music booming onstage.

In other words, Trump supplies the kind of raw material that gets a beat reporter's work on the front page or at the top of the newscast.

"What journalist wouldn't want to be part of this?" said David Smith, the Washington correspondent for the London-based Guardian newspaper. "There have been so many twists and turns. And so much interest in him."

Trump takes a keen, almost obsessive interest in the reporters who cover him, too. In an interview last week, he mentioned, without prompting, the names of Washington Post reporters he deemed "fair." He was less enthralled by some of the newspaper's editorial columnists, citing columns that were published weeks and even months ago.

Beyond the fireworks of Trump's campaign, Smith, a longtime Africa correspondent, says Trump's emergence as the leading Republican candidate "raises deeper questions about the state of society that foreign correspondents love to explore." He notes, for example, that elections in African countries often feature grandiose, larger-than-life candidates and violent outbreaks among a party's supporters and opponents. In this, he said, Trump's campaign resembles something out of "a Third World country."

What's more, if a presidential candidate in Africa had suggested "opening up" the nation's libel laws in order to sue the media more easily, or if a candidate routinely exhorted his supporters to turn against the news media - as Trump has - it would probably inspire condemnations from human-rights groups, Smith said.

Reporters on the Trump beat, particularly women, have said they sometimes feel unsafe during his rallies. The threat, however, seems mostly confined to the mass booing of the news media that Trump orchestrates and the occasional catcalls from the crowd.

Three journalists have been slightly injured in the course of covering Trump over the past two weeks. Time photographer Christopher Morris was choke-slammed by a Secret Service officer after he sought to take pictures of protesters at a Virginia rally. Breitbart News reporter Michelle Fields was bruised after she allegedly was manhandled by Trump's campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, while interviewing Trump after a Florida news conference. And CBS News correspondent Sopan Deb suffered a minor cut last week when he was thrown to the ground and arrested by Chicago police while recording an unruly protest outside a rally. Deb was back to covering Trump on Sunday; Fields resigned in a dispute with her employer.

But perhaps an equally telling example of Trump's press relations occurred Sunday night in West Boca Raton. A Trump staffer spotted Michael Mayo, a columnist for the South Florida Sun Sentinel, mingling with the crowd at Trump's rally and ordered him into the press pen. Mayo declined, and the staffer - who gave his name only as Justin - found a police officer who told Mayo that he faced arrest for trespassing if he didn't comply. Mayo protested that he had a right to stand peacefully in the crowd, but he left the premises.

"Trump wants the press in a pen so he can use us as a prop to mock and deride us," Mayo said in an interview Tuesday. "I wasn't there to be used as anyone's prop." He added, "I get it. Trump is real news now. He can't be ignored (by the media). But a lot of people are playing his game."

For the most part, however, the media following Trump wouldn't want to be covering anyone else.

"He's the story of the race," said Adrian Morrow, a political correspondent for Canada's Globe and Mail newspaper as he interviewed protesters outside Trump's rally in Tampa on Monday.

Traffic to the Globe and Mail's website soars when the paper writes "anything" about Trump. That's not the case when Morrow files dispatches on his usual beat: Ontario's provincial legislature.

Previously:


03/10/16: What really gets under Trump's skin?
03/04/16: Megyn Kelly leaves Trump sputtering to defend himself at debate
02/29/16: Think Trump's wrong? Fact checkers can tell you how often (hint: a lot)

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