View all newsletters
Sign up for our free email newsletters

Fighting for quality news media in the digital age.

  1. North America
May 17, 2024

Emily Maitlis: Journalists who think they lead conversation around Trump ‘kidding’ themselves

And Kara Swisher says NYT editor is "living in another era" over his Trump coverage comments.

By Bron Maher

Emily Maitlis has said journalists are “kidding” themselves if they believe they’re “leading the conversation” around Donald Trump.

Maitlis, a former Newsnight and BBC Americast presenter who now co-hosts Global’s The News Agents podcast and its weekly US version, told an audience in London on Wednesday that she did not think the media had “learned the lessons of 2016”.

She was speaking on a panel at the Sir Harry Evans Summit titled “The Media And Trump 2.0”, which saw prominent journalists and media executives wrangling over how the news industry should cover the former president who is again the Republican candidate.

Trump, who leads incumbent president Joe Biden in some polls ahead of November’s election, has insisted since late 2020 that the last election was rigged against him despite consistent findings by courts and election officials that this was not the case.

The former president’s frequent use of falsehoods has raised complications for journalists, who have struggled over how they should cover him without amplifying inaccurate claims or opening themselves to accusations of bias.

Select and enter your email address Weekly insight into the big strategic issues affecting the future of the news industry. Essential reading for media leaders every Thursday. Your morning brew of news about the world of news from Press Gazette and elsewhere in the media. Sent at around 10am UK time. Our weekly does of strategic insight about the future of news media aimed at US readers. A fortnightly update from the front-line of news and advertising. Aimed at marketers and those involved in the advertising industry.
  • Business owner/co-owner
  • CEO
  • COO
  • CFO
  • CTO
  • Chairperson
  • Non-Exec Director
  • Other C-Suite
  • Managing Director
  • President/Partner
  • Senior Executive/SVP or Corporate VP or equivalent
  • Director or equivalent
  • Group or Senior Manager
  • Head of Department/Function
  • Manager
  • Non-manager
  • Retired
  • Other
Visit our privacy Policy for more information about our services, how Progressive Media Investments may use, process and share your personal data, including information on your rights in respect of your personal data and how you can unsubscribe from future marketing communications.
Thank you

Thanks for subscribing.

Speaking about this on Wednesday, Maitlis referred to her 2022 Edinburgh Television Festival MacTaggart Lecture, commenting: “I said the rules have changed, the politicians have changed, the actors have changed and the journalists need to get with it — you need to understand what’s going on.

Content from our partners
Pugpig named best media technology partner of 2024 by AOP
Cannes Lions: The world's best creativity all in one place
L'Equipe signs content syndication deal with The Content Exchange

“And I actually thought, two years later, we’d be in a different place, and I don’t think we are.”

She said the problem for journalists is that “we’re dealing with somebody who can raise millions off a mugshot on a mug. So we’re kidding ourselves if we think we as broadcasters are leading the conversation”.

Maitlis linked this point to the ability of public figures to communicate directly with their audiences through social media: “If you go and talk to Elon Musk, if you do an interview with Elon Musk, it doesn’t matter how much heavy TV equipment you’ve got — they’re recording it, they will put out their clips before you get yours on air. And their clips will show Elon Musk in the light that he wants to be seen. Same with Trump.”

Kara Swisher: NYT editor Joe Kahn ‘is living in another era’

Earlier this month New York Times executive editor Joe Kahn publicly waded into the debate around covering Trump, telling Semafor that “​​it is not the job of the news media to prevent” his re-election and asking whether the title’s critics wanted it to become “Xinhua News Agency or Pravda and put out a stream of stuff that’s very, very favourable to [Biden] and only write negative stories about the other side”.

[Read more: How New York Times plans to cover Donald Trump’s third presidential campaign]

The comments reportedly caused annoyance among NYT staffers and they also irritated Maitlis’ co-panellist at the event, former New York Times columnist Kara Swisher, who said: “Joe is living in another era. When I read that, I’m like: ‘You’ve got to be fucking kidding me, Joe.’

“A lot of people at The New York Times, even though they defended him, said [the same thing] to me…

“What are you talking about? Why do you have to go to Chinese news agency? Why can’t you just point out the problems? Of course he had to make it either you’re very fair or you’re the Chinese news agency. I was like: there’s something in between those two things!”

Swisher was not in complete disagreement with Kahn, who had emphasised that Trump cannot be downplayed in coverage because he has a good shot at winning the presidency.

She told the audience: “One of the things that drives me crazy is when I hear a lot of: ‘Why are you platforming that person? Why are you doing this?’ I mean, you get that from a lot of people, right?

“Guess what? He’s running for president and he could win and he’s ahead. And so you can’t ignore it and get on a high horse without engaging with it… It is the new normal, whether you like it or not. And so you have to figure out ways, as journalists, to deal with it.”

Emily Maitlis, Kara Swisher, Jeff Zucker and Jorge Ramos on how they think the media should cover Trump

Some of the journalists on stage argued the way to “deal with it” is to consistently contradict false claims made by Trump and emphasise that he attempted to undermine an election result.

Jorge Ramos, a Univision anchor who was ejected from a Trump press conference in 2015, said: “We have to confront him. That’s the way to deal with him — to confront him every single time…

“You cannot remain neutral. At the end it’s a matter of credibility, of trust. And the only way people are going to trust us — we cannot treat him as if he were a normal candidate. 

“I think the most important responsibility that we have is to challenge those who are in power. There’s a beautiful word in Spanish — contrapoder, ‘against-power’. If you’re always contrapoder, on the other side of power, you’ll be fine.”

Maitlis, who attempted this kind of fact-checking approach with pro-Trump congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene in March before being told to “fuck off” by the lawmaker, acknowledged the efficacy of her questioning was undercut by the fact Taylor Greene had “loved” the clip.

But she added: “I sometimes wonder whether you couldn’t justify mentioning January the 6th [when Trump supporters stormed the US Capitol] every time you talk about Donald Trump’s campaign.

“Because if you don’t, you’re ignoring the fact that he tried to ignore the public vote, the public’s will, for an election. How on Earth can you talk about a campaign to be president when he could do it again? You know — we talk about what happens if Donald Trump wins, what happens if Donald Trump loses? We’ll go through the whole thing again!”

Jeff Zucker, the attempted Telegraph buyer and former CNN president who led the network during the 2016 and 2020 presidential elections, said that we now “have a better sense of who [Trump] is and what he’s trying to do.

“I agree with Jorge — I don’t think it’s necessary to cover the motorcade from Trump Tower to the courthouse [for Trump’s trials] and things like that. I don’t think we have to take every one of those press conferences live. Those are the mistakes that I made [in previous elections]. I own them.

“That is not why he was elected president of the United States, but I don’t think we should be repeating things like that this time.”

However, he emphasised Trump “is the candidate for president again. He could very well win. I think what he says, what he does, is news — but I also don’t think that there’s necessarily two sides to every story… It’s okay not to be neutral as long as you know the objective truth.”

Swisher, on the other hand, said Trump is “a master troll”.

Referring to the 2015 clip of Ramos attempting to question Trump before he was ejected, she said: “You have to understand how it’s being consumed by the consumer on the end, and it is not that [clip]…

“He’s doing that for the cutting of it, to put it out for fundraising and everything else. He doesn’t care about progressives, so sometimes we become willing idiots to what he’s doing, because we’re characters in his strange little demented play…

“That is not what people are seeing. They’re seeing clips, they’re seeing it mixed up, they’re seeing it a different way. People are taking the news and then making the news [themselves], and that’s what’s difficult.”

Swisher also laid out her “dream of interviewing” Trump, saying: “I would do it at Mar-a-Lago, in the lobby, on a velvet couch… so he feels safe. And then I will get him… Everybody would watch the hell out of it.”

Topics in this article : , , ,

Email pged@pressgazette.co.uk to point out mistakes, provide story tips or send in a letter for publication on our "Letters Page" blog

Select and enter your email address Weekly insight into the big strategic issues affecting the future of the news industry. Essential reading for media leaders every Thursday. Your morning brew of news about the world of news from Press Gazette and elsewhere in the media. Sent at around 10am UK time. Our weekly does of strategic insight about the future of news media aimed at US readers. A fortnightly update from the front-line of news and advertising. Aimed at marketers and those involved in the advertising industry.
  • Business owner/co-owner
  • CEO
  • COO
  • CFO
  • CTO
  • Chairperson
  • Non-Exec Director
  • Other C-Suite
  • Managing Director
  • President/Partner
  • Senior Executive/SVP or Corporate VP or equivalent
  • Director or equivalent
  • Group or Senior Manager
  • Head of Department/Function
  • Manager
  • Non-manager
  • Retired
  • Other
Visit our privacy Policy for more information about our services, how Progressive Media Investments may use, process and share your personal data, including information on your rights in respect of your personal data and how you can unsubscribe from future marketing communications.
Thank you

Thanks for subscribing.

Websites in our network