‘Like drinking from a firehose’: NPR journalist speaks about reporting in the era of Donald Trump

By Morgan Politzer

National Public Radio political correspondent Mara Liasson led a discussion Wednesday night about dealing with hate, bias and the changing world of political reporting under Trump.

Liasson has been a political correspondent for NPR for over 30 years. She discussed how the political landscape has changed since President Trump took office, as well as the impact his actions have had on both a national and international scale.   

“Covering the Trump era is like drinking from a firehose,” she said. “All modern presidents are polarizing, but in the Trump White House, there is no such thing as a secret, and very little advance planning.”

With such a controversial administration, the image of the White House and the expectations of the president have changed since Trump has taken office. As the midterm elections draw closer, the way the White House is run has begun to shift.

“Right now, we are in a new phase of the Trump presidency, and this is what I call the one-man band, the solo-act phase,” Liasson said. “Congress has really taken a backseat. Trump is on center stage, pretty much by himself. The stuff that is going to happen are things that a president can do by himself, like foreign policy, trade, executive actions. In all of those areas, there has been a tremendous amount of drama and uncertainty and suspense.” Liasson included the president’s stance on DACA in this phase, as the fate of those protected under the program remain unknown.

Liasson focused on topics that have dominated the recent news cycle, including Syria, China, the Russia investigation and Trump’s prolific use of social media. She discussed how Trump has addressed these issues and how they have contributed to the polarization of American politics.

“Our system is based on compromise, cooperation and restraint, and if we no longer agree on facts first and then work our way to opinions, as opposed to the other way around, it’s impossible to have a civil debate and it’s impossible to compromise,” she said.

In a time of deeply polarized politics in the country, criticism of free speech and the First Amendment has increased with the spread of the concept of “fake news,” which Liasson addressed during the talk.

“There is fake ‘fake news’ as an epithet, fake news as ‘I don’t like that so I’m going to call it fake news’ versus real fake news, which is propaganda, lies, inaccuracies,” Liasson said. “So much of this fake news is amplified and accelerated by social media and Russian bots and the Facebook and Google and YouTube algorithms, that the result is that fewer people believe in real news.”

Olivia Suttles, the recruitment coordinator for the Philip Merrill College of Journalism, said she is a fan of Liasson and was excited that she spoke about the importance of media literacy.

“The media is sort of the fourth pillar of the democracy, and if there is even a subsection of the population that is choosing media that doesn’t accurately represent what is happening in the world, those are uninformed voters,” she said. “And that means we have an uninformed elected body, so that’s really scary.”

Bonnie Thornton Dill, the dean of the College of Arts and Humanities, which hosted the event at The Clarice, said this topic was selected as part of the Dean’s Lecture Series.

“Every year, we have a theme, and this year the theme was addressing hate and bias since those have been issues of great concern on the campus,” she said.

“The idea really is to create community, to expose our students to different ideas,” Dill said, “and to, in this particular year, really have what we call some courageous conversations.”


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