In an era of shocking Trump statements, his claim during a Sunday interview with CBS News that Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi is indifferent to the suffering of human trafficking victims certainly qualified as stunning and heartless. The ugly allegation came during a sit-down interview with CBS News’ Face the Nation host Margaret Brennan. The much-hyped Q&A session aired before the Super Bowl.
“She doesn’t mind human trafficking,” Trump said of Pelosi, while attacking her policy position on border security.
The response to Trump’s unhinged claim about Pelosi? Brennan didn’t really have one. “She offered you over a billion dollars for border security,” the host said, casually moving the discussion forward. CBS appeared to be thoroughly unconcerned with airing an interview that contained such a vile, unchecked lie about a prominent Democratic politician.
The human trafficking claim came amid a typically gibberish-filled interview during which Trump was essentially allowed to roam free and go largely unchallenged. He not only smeared the most powerful woman in American politics today, but also lied relentlessly about a host of topics, including immigration, staff resignations, and former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick.
He also fabricated claims about his longtime adviser Roger Stone. “First of all, Roger Stone didn’t work on the campaign, except way, way at the beginning long before we’re talking about,” Trump stressed. As Bloomberg’s Tim O’Brien quickly pointed out, though, that claim is utterly hollow. Yet on CBS, Trump was allowed to spew the nonsense without pushback.
Of course, Trump also stressed that the entire “Russia thing is a hoax.” Incredibly, that “hoax” lie is one Trump has repeatedly nearly 200 times in public. Yet the CBS anchor interviewing Trump seemed completely unprepared to counter it in real time.
For news consumers, the whole Trump interview spectacle is Groundhog Day on steroids. Just last week, the publisher of the New York Times failed miserably during his interview with Trump.
And that’s why it’s worth asking if it’s just time for news organizations to stop interviewing Trump.
I’m specifically referring to one-on-one interviews with Trump, the types of media events that have traditionally been seen in the news business as a Big Deal. (That’s certainly how CBS tried to market its pre-Super Bowl sit-down.) The problem is that this somewhat august format helps elevate Trump and give him the appearance of being a traditional, legitimate presidential figure. It also gives him yet another national media platform to use in order to lie relentlessly.
Obviously, the preferred solution to this ongoing problem is for journalists to simply do a better job interviewing Trump, and to stop rolling over for his purposefully duplicitous dealings. But we’re more than three years into this Trump exercise—and more than two years into Oval Office interviews with him—and journalists who have access to Trump for one-on-one Q&As simply are not up to the challenge.
So it’s time to look at other, more unorthodox approaches, such as ignoring him. There are still plenty of other forums besides one-on-one interviews for journalists to get White House information.
Yes, it’s a radical idea, but Trump’s a radical president, and the Washington press corps is long past the point where members should have embraced extreme measures to deal with facing a pathological liar in the White House. But they haven’t. They seem entirely comfortable with the current arrangement, whereby Trump lies to them nonstop and they obediently type up the falsehoods. (And then, on the side, they offer up toothless fact checks.)
More than a year ago, I was suggesting reporters stop showing up at White House press briefings. Was that a radical idea? I suppose it was. But it would’ve been the right thing to do. As of today, the briefings have become a complete joke. They’ve been reduced to abbreviated monthly affairs at which White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders, like her boss, lies directly to journalists nonstop.
News organizations could have sent a powerful message if they had moved proactively in 2018, pulled their reporters out, and signaled they weren’t going to be used as props for the White House press briefing charades. Instead, reporters continue to dutifully file into the useless briefings.
As for dealing with Trump, there’s simply a collective reluctance by the media to grapple with today’s difficult reality.
Here’s what blindingly obvious to anyone acknowledging simple truths, and these are not partisan conclusions: Trump is mostly incoherent when he speaks about policy and is a congenital liar. He appears to work little, if at all, in his role as president. His cabinet and senior staff are riddled with holes thanks to unprecedented turnover and people fleeing his administration. He faces monumental legal threats on numerous fronts, and his orbit is filled with people who have been indicted, many of whom have already pleaded guilty to crimes. And today he stands as the most consistently unpopular first-term president in modern American history.
Given all that, how do journalists sit down across from Trump and treat him, essentially, like every other president? And how do interviewers just allow Trump to make stuff up throughout entire Q&As? Let’s be clear: This is all about access. I guarantee you there was lots of backslapping at CBS News in recent days—but not because they produced a hard-hitting, insightful Trump interview. They did not. But CBS won the access game, and CBS had a Trump interview to brag about on Twitter and to drive traffic.
That’s the dance that now takes place. Trump provides access, news outlets know not to ask too many tough questions—and in return, the media companies profit.
But it’s not informative, and it’s not really journalism. So maybe it’s just time to stop.
Eric Boehlert is a veteran progressive writer and media analyst, formerly with Media Matters and Salon. He is the author of Lapdogs: How the Press Rolled Over for Bush and Bloggers on the Bus. You can follow him on Twitter @EricBoehlert.
This post was written and reported through our Daily Kos freelance program.