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  • Articles by Sonali

    Trump’s First Year and the Foreign Media

    Has the foreign press done enough in terms of holding Donald Trump to account in his first year as US president? Trump’s approval ratings have remained static despite the FBI investigation into Russian collusion in the 2016 election, sleaze allegations and his generally unpresidential conduct. Even the publication of Michael Wolff’s book ‘Fire and Fury’ hasn’t fazed him. This topic was central to a charged discussion at the Frontline Club chaired by journalist Michael Goldfarb. On the panel were Guardian writer Dan Roberts, BBC Royal Correspondent Jonny Dymond and academic/businessman Professor Andrew Macleod.

    The big question is how did we get here in the first place? Dan Roberts was reporting from the US in the lead up to the election. He admits to being immersed in the Washington bubble. He said ‘the media is always trying to predict the election result’. It certainly looked as if it was going Hillary’s way from the outset. They got it wrong. Roberts offered a mea culpa on behalf of the media.

    Andrew Macleod says the press simply underestimated Trump. Many journalists themselves belong to an elite and are out of touch with ordinary Americans i.e. Trump supporters (hobbits). Instead of reporting from Washington they should have been speaking to people in a diner somewhere in Idaho drinking really bad coffee.

    We learn from Jonny Dymond that 25% of the BBC’s entire foreign news budget is earmarked for US coverage. Roberts added that the British media is beholden to covering US politics. By comparison, the Americans don’t take nearly the same level of interest in British politics.

    Then there are Trump’s 4am tweets. His instant response to stories he’s gleaned off Fox news presumably. Dymond highlighted that these are ‘entertaining and newsy’. They’re perfect fodder for a fast paced news bulletin. They also reveal how Trump is a master media tactician (not just a hick), distracting us from the workings of the federal government.

    The audience here seemed very engaged too. Jon Favreau’s series of podcasts ‘Pod Save America’ was touted as essential viewing. A Trump supporter questioned why the media doesn’t report more on his successes, such as the upturn in the US economy. Roberts said this was likely to be down to sheer luck. The public aren’t interested in causation though.

    But that’s half the problem. The British public pay more attention to local stories, about the Royal Family for instance. The fact that traditional media is in crisis compounds matters further according to Roberts. We’re relying more on news feeds on social media and sound bite news. He stressed that these sound bites should be more substantial.

    The consequences are likely to be dire if the press (and the Democrats) can’t reach people, especially those in the US Rust Belt, disaffected by the effects of globalisation.

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