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Trump, the Media and Restoring Trust

Evan Vucci, AP
The journalists traveling with the Trump/Pence campaign, including NPR's Sarah McCammon, on election day

Republican candidate Donald Trump made a practice of criticizing the media at his campaign rallies, even calling out some journalists by name. That criticism was greeted by booing, jeering and worse from the crowds. NPR political reporter Sarah McCammon was there for all of it. She spoke with Trump supporters throughout the campaign and witnessed the Trump campaign’s relationship with the media.

In McCammon’s experience, the anger that many Trump supporters feel toward the press is tied to their feelings about the much larger system of “the establishment” – the people in government who have been calling the shots for years.

“In many ways,” McCammon says, “I felt like when we were at these rallies, we became kind of a stand in for that. Everyone else in the room was there as a Trump supporter and we were there as the press, as neutral observers, and so we became kind of a punching bag, metaphorically - a place to unleash all of this anger at the establishment.”

Margaret Sullivan, media columnist for The Washington Post, feels concerned for what a Trump presidency could mean for the press.  To Sullivan, Trump’s blacklisting and inaccessibility while on the campaign trail don’t bode well for Americans who want to see more transparency coming from the White House.

“I don’t think that Americans want to live in a society in which there is essentially a ministry of truth, where instead of having real photographers go and take photographs of what’s going on, you get handouts from essentially the propaganda arm of the White House,” says Sullivan. “I think that citizens actually have to step forward and make clear that this is something they value and they want.”

How can the American people make it clear that they want transparency from the Trump administration? According to Sullivan, by supporting the media they value.

“They can do that by making contributions to public radio, they can do it by subscribing to newspapers that they think are doing a good job, and they can do it by letting their elected officials know that this matters to them so that they can push back.”

In this hour of River to River, host Ben Kieffer talks to McCammon, Sullivan, and Jesse Holcomb, the Associate Director of Research at Pew Research Center, to find out what we can learn about voter mistrust of the media from the 2016 campaign and how the press can hold the Trump administration accountable if the public doesn’t trust what the press is telling them.

This program is part of the Pulitzer Prizes Centennial Campfires Initiative, a joint venture of the Pulitzer Prizes board, the Federation of State Humanities Council, and Humanities Iowa in celebration of the 2016 centennial of the Prizes.

The initiative seeks to illuminate the impact of journalism and the humanities on American life today, to imagine their future and to inspire new generations to consider the values represented by the body of Pulitzer Prize-winning work.

Support is provided by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the Ford Foundation, Carnegie Corporation of New York, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, the Pulitzer Prizes Board, Columbia University and Humanities Iowa.

Ben Kieffer is the host of IPR's River to River