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Featured Resources [VIDEO]:

How Should the Media Cover a White House That Isn’t Afraid to Lie? (Vox)

Covering the current administration has presented a challenge for the news media. This video highlights some of the field’s strategies to present accurate information to the public.

Disclaimer: The word ‘bullsh*t’ is used by the host at the 4:59 mark. Refer to the first Additional Resource below for an alternative featured resource if this presents an issue.  

Welcome to Do Now’s Special Series on “The Press, The Presidency & Propaganda”. We live in  a controversial and confusing political climate where there are daily disputes about what is factual and true, and what is not. We think it is important to have the vocabulary and media literacy background to  think critically about different ways the nation and its leaders speak and write about issues that matter to us.

Join us here on Wednesdays in February for Do Now questions exploring different aspects of the press and propaganda as it relates to the presidency and public knowledge.

February 1: Lying Politicians & Propaganda
February 8: Censorship
February 15: The Fourth Estate
February 22: Citizen Accountability

The Fourth Estate

The free press is often referred to as the ‘Fourth Estate’, a phrase coined by an 18th century Irish politician and philosopher, Edmund Burke, who observed the role of reporters overlooking government proceedings. “[T]here were Three Estates in Parliament; but, in the Reporters’ Gallery yonder, there sat a Fourth Estate more important far than they all.”

Journalism and a free press play a vital role in our democracy. As these Stanford students put it:

“In a representative democracy, the role of the press is twofold: it both informs citizens and sets up a feedback loop between the government and voters. The press makes the actions of the government known to the public, and voters who disapprove of current trends in policy can take corrective action in the next election. Without the press, the feedback loop is broken and the government is no longer accountable to the people. The press is therefore of the utmost importance in a representative democracy.”

Today’s journalists are expected to abide by a code of ethics founded on a set of core principles: truth and accuracy, independence, fairness and impartiality, humanity, and accountability.

Covering the Trump Administration, however, has presented a challenge for the news industry, as some see it, with daily press briefings reverberating the falsehoods of the administration and other representatives spinning facts during media appearances.

In some instances, investigative reporting has held the administration accountable for its approaches. The most recent example is coverage of the administration’s communication with Russia from the Washington Post and the New York Times. Their reporting led to the resignation of former national security adviser, Michael T. Flynn. In other cases, at times the television news media has failed to inform the public on the workings of key issues, instead giving a platform to administration representatives who spin facts to mislead viewers.

How do you think the news media’s coverage of our current administration is going thus far? Based on the core principles listed above, what is one recent example of ethical news coverage and one example of unethical coverage? Are there notable differences between print and television news coverage?

Respond in the comments below or on Twitter using the hashtag #DoNowFourthEstate.

Also, this…

The Five Core Values of Journalism [Ethical Journalism Network]

Journalist Roundtable: How Should Media Cover Trump’s Administration [NPR]

Falsehoods, Lies, And The Challenge Of Covering Donald Trump [WGBH]

  • John Ramirez

    I do think the media is doing a good job covering the Trump administration, considering what they are given. I do believe however that Trump himself still deals with the media like a celebrity. Celebrities often have a hate relationship with the media and tend to cut all ties with the media to protect their brand and privacy. However the media in American politics is important, in my opinion the serve as an unofficial branch of checks and balances. Trump needs to realize that as president you have no privacy and that he no longer has a brand. His brand is AMERICA. However, the media will have to be extra critical of everything Trump does due to the fact they no longer have a relationship with the administration and that he has openly lied. #MyCMSTArgs

    • Dollie Partida

      I agree and like the example you gave of Trump dealing with media like a celebrity. Let’s not even talk about how unprofessional his tweets are! Trump does hate the media, he’s called journalists the most dishonest human beings on earth according to the article by The New York Times. I also agree that as a president he won’t have the privacy he wants. Of course everyone is going to know what he is up to and what he plans on doing because all in all he is running the country in which we live. We all want to know what will happened because it definitely affects targeted people and minorities. #MyCMSTArgs

    • Ciana Bell

      Hi John, I agree with your post! Trumps recent tweet about the “fake news” shows his hate for the media and I feel it is his attempt to persuade Americans that they shouldn’t believe what the news is posting. Where I feel that Trump has failed is by going out and commenting on the media, he is subjecting himself to the media as well which creates for some controversy with his accusations. By President Trump still looking at the news as a celebrity he is taking away from the importance of news coverage on our administration. I think it will be very interesting to see if and how our media coverage will change over the next few years with regards to our new administration.
      #MyCMSTArgs #DoNowFourthEstate

  • Dollie Partida

    I think that the media is doing a good enough job. They are keeping the public informed on what Trump and his administration have in mind. The media is bringing awareness to social issues. When people read headlines and get a scene of what is going on inside a white house. Even if it’s as bizarre as the press conference given in the example above. It’s still opening our eyes and letting us know how unprofessional or evident they are with the lies. In an article by the New York Times it gives Trumps views in the media. The media is exposing him and in his eyes the media is “among the most dishonest human beings on earth”. From his point of view the media is the monster because it’s exposing his mistakes. #MyCMSTArgs

    • Lee V

      I believe I understand one of your points- that the media is as much in the dark on a lot of things within the administration as us, the public. They are doing an important job, and are relaying the information to us as fast and as accurately as they can. When Buzzfeed released a document whose accuracy was questionable, they were attempting the fulfill their role as that middle man between the truth and the people. While their ulterior motives are arguable, the intentions in general for most outlets remain the same- get the word out, let people analyze what they have and draw a conclusion.

  • Ciana Bell

    I feel that the media is doing a good job at covering our current administration. With that being said, each news media outlet does report on different sides and perspectives of our current administration, therefore it is crucial to look at all the sources to get a full understanding. We cannot just isolate ourself to one media outlet, otherwise we may be missing important sides of the story. With that being said, that is one aspect of our news coverage that is unethical, we all have our biases however with regards to the news they should remain neutral for their audience to draw their own conclusions. An example of ethical news coverage would be the press conference, the “on the spot” news coverage of our administration. I do feel that there are notable differences between print and television news coverage. Print can be much more straight forward, whereas the television news coverage can use imagery and can fluff up the story more. I think this is important to understand when we are considering our news sources. Along with that, with regards to our current administration it is important to know the administrations view on news and how that can affect the news we receive. A major scandal that just happened with regards to this would be Trumps tweet about “fake news” which ties into our question of what is ethical and unethical. Knowing the views from our administration on the news is important in furthering our understanding and ability to see past bias of our news coverage. #MyCMSTArgs #DoNowFourthEstate

    • Alexei Taisler

      This is one of the most well done jobs of justifying media biases. My biggest issue is how to get people to want to read different sides of a story instead of just focusing on an article they already believe. Also today online news is what people rely on. I don’t know many people who read news papers. I think of Facebook and how it recommends articles but its based on your profile. If there was a way to get Facebook to recommend opposing sides articles I think it could really open up peoples eyes and gain more understanding of other people who have different experiences that have shaped their views. Overall great comment in my opinion!

    • Carly Campbell

      I definitely agree with you here. Many people limit there ideas and shut their brains off from listening to the other side of the story (guilty here too). But, as you mentioned we only usually stick to one source therefore we are unable to learn the other side and be understanding. I myself usually go for a more moderate news source like CNN where much of there stuff is only based off facts. The media has done a pretty good job even though trump seems to think everything is “fake news” that has to do with himself in a negative light.

    • Brian Luong

      I agree with you on the differences between print and television news coverage. Television news can be helpful with the visuals but can also distract. A lot of television news often leans more towards stories that are appealing to the eyes and ears in order to attract more views. This is not always helpful when trying to learn more about topics that may be more important but less appealing to the senses. #MyCMSTArgs #DoNowFourthEstate

  • Alexei Taisler

    I believe the media is mixed. There are very few unbiased media sources which leads to many people taking opinions of others as truths. As stated in the article titled “A Question of Media Ethics”, Malik Muhammed makes the claim “Good faith with the reader is the foundation of good journalism”. The people rely on the press and media to give them good and correct information to better help them understand what is going on in the government. With this, I also believe that not all news sources need to be unbiased. The point of many media sources is to influence people to see the issue in their light and give reasons to side with their side. With too many of these media sources people begin to get stuck in echo chambers and start aligning opinions with character. No one wants to hear criticism and have to defend their ideas because they’ve been told for so long that they are right and everyone else is wrong. Media should be open about their biases to ensure the public gets facts and not just opinions. Overall I don’t think the media is doing their job as informing the people on true, correct, and unaltered information. The media is doing its job of dividing people and enhancing rage inside people who begin to believe everything they read. People are losing compassion for human beings based on others PERSONAL views not truths.
    #myCMSTargs #DoNowFourthEstate

  • Carly Campbell

    I enjoy the media coverage that I’ve been seeing thus far in this election. It’s not actually good, but it has shown what kind of person our President truly is. Although they somewhat twist it, I think that they are truly exposing him for what he’s actually doing in regards to signing proposals like the travel ban (which was pretty much a Muslim ban). One example of the news coverage being ethical based on the core principles is when the media outlets recorded and commented on live tv for the Trump Inauguration. They literally just reported facts such as “today the 45th president of the United States is being inaugurated”. An example of unethical news is what I described in the beginning of my paragraph when they turned a travel ban into a Muslim ban. I also think its unethical of The Donald to say every media outlet against him is “fake news”. There is a slight difference in the way tv coverage and print coverage is handled, and I believe the print to be more legit or truthful based on the fact that it’s traceable and written down. Overall, I’m not mad at the media because they hate the president as do I. #MyCMSTArgs #DoNowFourthState

  • Morgan Reams

    I think that the media is doing a good job trying to cover all of the decisions and actions of the Trump administration. I also think that it is difficult to say that news outlets are unbiased but most do try and give us both sides of the story. It’s also our job as citizens to stay fully informed on all policies and issues surrounding our government by watching/ reading/ or listening to an array of news sources. Unfortunately, we have “celebrity president” who is in a constant battle with the media. This whole “fake news” situation is somewhat ironic because Trump is calling very credible news sources fake while his primary mode of communication with the public is twitter. This is not only taking away from his credibility but it also makes us question what is really ethical? To me, ethical news is anything that literally reports on the facts. An example of this would be when news outlets report on events and strictly state what occurred at the event. I think there is a noticeable difference between print and television news coverage. Print media is more formal and usually contains many more facts and fewer opinions. Though television news coverage is also credible there’s so many more opportunities for error or biased opinions. I think the most important take away from the media and our current administration is to research all information first. With all of these crazy policies, bands and other things Trump’s trying to do we have to stay informed! #MyCMSTArgs #DoNowFourthState

    • Justis Haruo Kusumoto

      I agree that print media is more formal and typically contains more facts and less opinion. If you go to the New York Times and read a few articles you will learn much more than watching Rachel Maddow or Bill O’Reilly on TV spewing out their partisan opinions. What do you mean when you talk about bands? Unfortunately, ethical reporting has been lacking in the last several years as print journalism has faded, and news organizations care more about ratings than the truth.

  • Brian Luong

    In light of the new presidency, journalists are are finding quite a lot of discrepancy between official White House press releases and the facts. While President Trump continually calls many media outlets such as the New York Times and CNN fake news. Trump even went as far as to bar these outlets along with others such as Politico and The Los Angeles Times from a White House briefing on February 24th. Journalists are vital to democracy and blocking them from briefings induces fear in those who already question Trump’s ability to unite the country. Investigative journalists have proved Trump wrong on many occasions. David Fahrenthold of the Washington Post had investigated whether Trump had donated the millions of dollars he said he has. After contacting over 400 charities, the Washington Post discovered that Trump had not donated any of his own money since 2008. However, not all journalism is accurate. In January of 2017, Buzzfeed News had posted a dossier of Trump’s possible connections with Russia. The dossier was full of unverified and misleading claims. When hit with backlash, editor in chief of Buzzfeed News Ben Smith stated that “We have always erred on the side of publishing”. Buzzfeed chose to ignore the principles of truth and accuracy which are important to journalists and the public.
    Between print and television news coverage, there is many differences. In general, print journalism is more in depth about the topic at hand and answers the questions of “Who, What, When, Where, and Why?” Televisions news coverage often simplifies the story and aims to attract the audience with audios and visuals that can be distracting. #MyCMSTArgs #DoNowFourthEstate

    • Estrella Perez

      I agree on what your saying. Usually I have noticed when television or the new reports any information they get out the information they first see. Sometimes the information they provide can be invalid and not fully correct because the information can be incomplete and they can twist the evidence they have now. This is the type of news and reports we have been receiving which is invalid. They say the go by a code but they use loop holes twisting their code. Making them following there mission about being truthful invalid.
      #MyCMSTArgs #DoNowFourthEstate

  • Estrella Perez

    I think the news media has not been doing a well job on covering the Trump administration. The newspaper and the television each follow a mission they abide to to give the people or audience the “truth” or what they catch. Some of the evidence that they capture on footage or print out can be factual that day but sometimes can be changed or be different the next day by not getting the full report and only report what they have. Which is not truthful at points but critically being it is truthful. The press did a bad job covering the administration by and other representatives by spinning facts and twisting the. As well for reporters doing a coverage with Russia from the Washington Post and New York Times and the reporters have failed to report key points to the public.
    #MyCMSTArgs #DoNowFourthEstate

  • Justis Haruo Kusumoto

    The news media’s coverage of our current administration has been amateurish at best. However, it’s important to note that “news media” is a very broad and vague term that can include hundreds of different news organizations ranging from esteemed, pulitzer-prize winning newspapers to online sites with questionable content, but viewed by massive numbers of readers. Organizations such as the Washington Post and New York Times, as mentioned in this article, have done an adequate job of exposing the misdeeds of the Trump administration, particularly when they exposed the connections between Mike Flynn and the Russians.
    Ethical news coverage would clearly be the exposure of the Flynn-Russia and Trump campaign-Russia connections, as it was well cited and relevant. An example of unethical coverage would be spending disproportionate amounts of time covering clear falsehoods like the allegations levied by Trump that Obama ordered a wiretap on Trump tower. That was unethical because the news media gave little thought to how much evidence was behind Trump’s claim, but allowed it to dominate the news coverage for several days. Promoting clearly questionable material (that as of now is clearly a falsehood) is extremely unethical, as it is a blatant disregard for the truth on the part of both Trump and the media. But, it gets good ratings, so that’s what they covered.
    WGBH also documented some blurry areas in coverage, as “falsehoods” may be different from “lies.” Because it is so difficult to prove deceptive intent, falsehoods are a more popular term to use than lies when covering Trump. Television coverage tends to be more sensational and partisan than print coverage, and does not fully examine a lot of issues that print coverage does.


Chanelle Ignant

Chanelle is the Youth Participation Coordinator for KQED Education. She has worked with various Bay Area youth media organizations and is an independent media maker.