This New Orange Era: The Test of Journalism

Posted on December 8, 2016

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On Wednesday, Donald Trump was interviewed via phone by Matt Lauer. Lauer, a genuinely nice guy, is not a heavyweight in the world of journalism. Coming off the flack he received by his wimpy moderation of the pre-debate debate between Trump and Clinton, Laurer was prepared to do some hard talk, this time around.  What resulted was Lauer badgering Trump about issues that will have minimal impact on anyone’s life: Trump’s overuse of Twitter and his anger over the way he is portrayed on Saturday Night Live.

Call Life in the Boomer Lane a party pooper (or any other catchy description using alliteration),  but with the wealth of swill that we are all treading water in right now, surely Laurer could have come up with something of substance.  The Laurer interview had LBL thinking once again about what these interviews would look like if journalists took a different tack with Trump.

First off, reminding Trump of anything he has said in the past is the trip to nowhere. He changes his mind so frequently and denies what he has said so frequently, that asking him to defend or explain what he said is like asking someone with amnesia to explain his former actions. The bottom line is who cares anyway. His words are meaningless.  They have minimal syllables and a short shelf life.

Second, Trump’s addiction to Tweeting is a fact of life.  We may believe it to be unseemly for a President of the United States to engage in such a low form of communication, but short bursts of thought, with no explanation, serve him well.

Trump’s Tweets about Saturday Night Live (or Hamilton, or any other form of popular entertainment) aren’t even worth thinking about, given the far more weighty issues at hand. Worse, we read the Tweets and believe they have some kind of message for us, regarding what is going on in Trump’s mind or, even more significantly, what his intentions are. The reality is that Trump has no intentions, aside from personal gain or the search for adoration. What he has are reactions, and his reactions change from moment to moment, depending on who he is talking to.

LBL would like a moratorium on all questions directed to Trump about anything he has ever said in the past, or about his Tweets about anything at all. Instead, she would like journalists to address themselves solely to asking him in-depth questions about what he has actually done, which would now primarily be the people he has nominated for Cabinet positions. For example, someone should ask him what specific reasons he had for nominating Ben Carson for director of HUD. Then, after Trump talks about what a great guy Carson is and how great they get along with each other, he should be asked the question again. And again. And again. Until there is a specific answer.

The next question should be “What specific actions do you believe Carson (or Jeff Sessions or James Mattis or Tom Price) will take as director of HUD (or Attorney General or Secretary of Defense or HHS) followed by something like, “What impact, specifically, will Carson have on the bilateral and multilateral relationships at HUD?” (Note to Readers: The last question was not an actual suggestion. But it sounded really good, so LBL threw it in.)

The point is not to embarrass Trump or to confuse him. It’s an attempt to treat him as though he actually has deep thoughts about his actions. As his constiuents, we have a right to ask him to share how he arrived at such decisions. LBL suspects that Laurer (or any other journalist) wouldn’t have grilled Obama at length about his basketball strategy, as though that mattered. Let’s afford Trump the same degree of scrutiny that we would any other leader.  For LBL, personally, the words “great” “fantastic” “terrific” “tremendous” “loser” “weak” “lightweight” and “disaster” may work on the stump, but they are not acceptable explanations for presidential decisions.

Trump is about to be the President of the United States. Let’s stop treating him like a deranged five-year-old and start holding him accountable to the office he will be inhabiting.

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