Brooke Gladstone: This is On the Media. I'm Brooke Gladstone.
Micah Loewinger: I'm Micah Loewinger. The failure of Congress to address the immigration crisis can be no surprise. What's new though is the influence of one particular former president.
Female reporter 3: In a closed-door meeting yesterday, minority leader Mitch McConnell poured cold water on the deal saying, "We don't want to do anything to undermine him." Him as in Donald Trump.
Micah Loewinger: New York Times White House correspondent Peter Baker observed last week, while Biden is the incumbent for the 2024 campaign, "Mr. Trump has been acting as an incumbent in a fashion too." Trump is setting the GOP agenda while still contesting the last election. But despite his looming presence in politics, the media's great Mea Culpa, circa 2020 means lots of reporters and outlets are trying not to spend every waking moment covering him and amplifying his lies. A development that we at OTM have welcomed and encouraged, but--
Chris Hayes: That decline in attention to him has actually helped him considerably politically.
Micah Loewinger: Chris Hayes is the host of All In with Chris Hayes on MSNBC. In a recent Rolling Stone interview on his own show, Hayes has begun making a case for why journalists should pay closer attention to Trump.
Chris Hayes: There are two different aspects of why I think it's important to cover him more. One is the substance of what a Trump presidency would be like. He's calling for basically across the board 10% terrorists, which would be like a tax hike on all imported goods. What percentage of Americans know that he wants to raise the price of every good purchased in America by 60%? None of them. He has a knack for wriggling free from the specifics of policy.
Another example is the current Israel-Gaza War. If it were 2012 and this were happening, Mitt Romney as the nominee would've already probably done an event where they released like a one-pager or a little briefing paper and a speech about what Barack Obama was doing wrong with respect to US policy in the Middle East and Israel and what he would do if he were president. Donald Trump's never going to do that.
Micah Loewinger: Are reporters really not going to him and not asking him these questions that feels hard to believe?
Chris Hayes: They are, but again, the problem is they've asked him a few times and he said things like, "Oh, it's a bad scene. It's a bad situation. It wouldn't be happening, if our president wouldn't be happening." Then the question is, well, then what do you do without it? Again, there has been really good coverage on this. I want to be clear that a bunch of media outlets have done a really good job of trying to construct what the Trump policy vision would look like, but I do think in terms of quantity, it's not been enough and has not been dogged enough. I haven't seen a ton of coverage of what would a Donald Trump administration be doing with the war in Gaza.
Micah Loewinger: What about Trump, our media ecosystem, our political environment has led you to want to reexamine how you and you feel other journalists should cover the ex-president?
Chris Hayes: One huge change, and I think this is really counterintuitive, and what I'm about to say is going to be controversial, but I stand by it, is Twitter. Take yourself back to Trump and Twitter. We all hated that relationship. It felt like he was using the platform to jerk the media's attention around, and it was unpleasant.
Micah Loewinger: It made us dumber.
Chris Hayes: I think it made us dumber, but also one, it wasn't politically helpful for him. There was a reason that even in focus groups with Trump voters, even in polling of Trump voters, what was the unanimous complaint about Donald Trump? Stop the tweeting. They hated the tweeting. Now, some people who liked Donald Trump would view the tweeting as a personal weakness independent of who he was. Like Ulysses S. Grant's drinking. When he's not drinking, he's a great general and a good president, but the drinking's a problem. There's people who viewed Trump's tweeting that way.
I strongly believe that Trump's tweeting wasn't like that. Trump's tweeting was the most honest, authentic expression of his very nature and being. The reason it was so politically problematic is who he is is actually unappealing to a vast majority of Americans. The Trump tweet news cycle, we all are happy that we left it behind, and yet he has ended up with this best-of-both-worlds situation. He can't help himself from expressing himself in that way, and yet now he gets to basically yell into a pillow.
Micah Loewinger: If we stipulate that coverage of Trump's tweets helped unseat him in the last election, we also have to acknowledge that it was oppressive media environment too. A crowded-out, substantive coverage. It was exhausting for not just people on TV or people on the radio, but everyone. There was also a 2020 Stanford study released a couple of months before January 6th that found that exposure to Trump's voter fraud tweets likely decreased belief in election integrity among his supporters. Covering the tweets risks further radicalizing his supporters. What do we do about that?
Chris Hayes: I think you put your finger on the dilemma and it's not one that like is easy to escape. Yes, it's the dilemma of all coverage of him, particularly live coverage, which is it is a kind of poison, particularly when he's doing things like lying about the election, lying about the nature of American democratic and electoral integrity when he's fomenting hatred at specific people. It is a good thing that the platform he's using to incite harassment, and I would even claim violence against various prosecutors and court officers, that it's not happening on a bigger stage.
At the same time, his consistent incitement of harassment and violence to those people probably should be a bigger story than it is. I do think there's a happy medium. I totally agree with you. I don't think we're ever going to go back to the wall-to-wall coverage of 2016, and that's a good thing. I just think the pendulum swung too far in the other direction. Every time that I dip in to watching parts of his rally, or reading stuff on Truth Social, particularly, I am struck anew by what an absolute crank he sounds like.
What ends up happening is because the media has put itself in its role of mediating, because I think the argument, correctly, the critique was, you were allowing him to communicate in such an unmediated fashion it was literally dangerous. The problem is, the challenge of mediating him necessarily involves some scrubbing off the rough edges. The version that emerges on the other side is nowhere near as wildly crankish as the raw feed.
Michael Loewinger: Let me ask you about that, because Jay Rosen, the press critic, has tried to insert a mantra into this election and past elections. He says, "The press should talk less about the horse race, more about the issues, the stakes, the consequences." What criteria do you think we should apply to determine that one of his lies or Truth Social rant posts actually gives us a clear sense of what he believes? Because it seems like once we reopen that Pandora's box, it's easy to twist ourselves into thinking that the latest bigoted, outrageous thought that has left his mouth is worth the attention of our viewers or our audiences.
Chris Hayes: Jay Rosen saying, "It's the stakes, not the odds," which I agree with, by the way. Let me give a concrete example of this. The threats to court officials. There is a court clerk in New York Court who was getting dozens of phone calls a day on her personal phone, who has been targeted by Trump, and Trump's lawyers, and Trump's followers for constant harassment. This is a clerk. She needs full-time security now. That story, which is being done, effectuated through his social media channels, that is nowhere near as covered as it should be for what it means about the stakes of the election for this kind of person being present.
Michael Loewinger: That's fair, but that's a story of him making a threat against a person. There's a who, what, where, and when, an afterlife of consequences after he makes the post. That, to me, is a good example because it's a clear story happening out in the world, but what about just like the stream of vitriol? What are the guardrails?
Chris Hayes: What about the guardrail? What I'm trying to say is, here's an example of something that fulfills both, and I think it's getting undercovered because it exists in a universe that people aren't seeing all day. Honestly, it's the difference between it being on Truth Social and it being on Twitter. If every reporter and editor was sitting there watching what he's saying about Engoron, and Chutkan, and Smith, and the clerk, and understood what was being done, which is like those people's lives are being put in danger, full stop, there would be more coverage of it. There hasn't been. The day that he was in New York Court, last week or two weeks ago, the day started with a swatting call to the judge's residence.
Michael Loewinger: This is part of a pattern.
Chris Hayes: It's part of a pattern. What I'm saying is, I totally hear you. We need some guardrails. There's got to be some theory or framework for what rises to the level of newsworthiness other than there's this just unending river of sludge. What I'm saying is, here's an example, these sorts of threats, these kinds of attacks on the court system, court officers is being done on a platform that is outside of public view, and because it's being done there, it is being undercovered as a story, even though it's, to me, one of the most significant stories of this year so far.
Michael Loewinger: Another suggestion from NYU Professor Jay Rosen is, "You don't broadcast Donald Trump live. You don't assume that you can fact-check him in real-time." I fear that some people are going to hear Chris Hayes at MSNBC says, "Cover Trump more. Let's just throw the guy on the livestream again."
Chris Hayes: Look, it is a really difficult dilemma. It's one that our network has wrestled with, and I think has been admirably transparent about. We took him live the other night in New Hampshire because again, it is newsworthy and important to see what the nominee is going to say. Then he lied about who won New Hampshire within a few minutes.
Donald Trump: We won New Hampshire three times now. Three.
Donald Trump: We win it every time. We win the primary, we win--
Chris Hayes: We came back out after he did that.
Rachel: This is part of the issue here. Donald Trump saying that he won New Hampshire not only in previous primaries but that he won New Hampshire in the general election is not true.
Chris Hayes: Rachel has been very clear on this on air. She basically said, "This is a policy we revisit all the time. We think there's a cost to a news organization to air false claims," which there is. It's hard to not be exhausted by his presence. I think a lot of people would rather not think about him. I would rather not think about him, but he really did try to end American democracy in its current form, and he really is promising to do it again in no uncertain terms.
Michael Loewinger: That's the kind of thing that you can say on your show at MSNBC. It's a liberal opinion show. You're not pretending to be objective. Covering Trump for traditional news outlets is obviously so much more fraught. When it comes to The New York Times, for instance, they don't want to seem too biased.
Chris Hayes: Totally.
Michael Loewinger: Sometimes you read a piece, and if you're not reading carefully, you'll miss the extent to which his statements and beliefs have been sanitized by bothsidesism, or the news copy has just been written in such a way that it completely softens the content of what he actually said. To the extent that you are encouraging others in the press to cover him more, and to push their audiences to see what he is really saying and planning to do on day one, what can those outlets do to cover Trump without falling into this same old trap?
Chris Hayes: Here's a great example. I thought The Sunday Shows did a good job of asking their guests about the E. Jean Carroll verdict.
Tim Scott: The average person in our country, Martha, they're not talking about lawsuits. As a matter of fact, what I have seen, however, is that the perception that the legal system is being weaponized against Donald Trump is actually increasing his poll numbers.
Martha Raddatz: I understand that they were jury trials. They were jury trials. They started when Donald Trump was president. That gives you no pause, whatsoever.
Tim Scott: The Democrats don't pause when they think about Hunter Biden and the challenges--
Chris Hayes: This used to be the sort of thing that we went through this kabuki, people got asked about nasty things Donald Trump said or did, and Republican politicians pretended they didn't know about it, or they made excuses. We all found it a little exhausting, but actually, it was important.
Michael Loewinger: Journalists got tired of asking it because?
Chris Hayes: They got tired because his level of behavior is so aberrant it's exhausting to constantly ask people those questions. Yet when you stop asking, people stop remembering just how aberrant he is.
Michael Loewinger: What do you say to listeners right now who might be thinking, "It sure sounds like Chris Hayes just wants to recapture that sweet, sweet Trump bump."
Chris Hayes: [laughs] Yes, I've been accused of talking my own book, but I don't actually look at ratings and I haven't since COVID, since 2020, which has been a transformation. My life is great.
Michael Loewinger: Wait, why did you stop looking at ratings?
Chris Hayes: I stopped looking at ratings because there was a moment where I could see in the numbers the audience's fatigue with COVID, totally understandably, and yet it still wasn't done, and I was getting wrapped around the axle of what to do.
Michael Loewinger: Do I stop covering the biggest story of our time because my audience isn't feeling it?
Chris Hayes: Exactly. I just decided that it was a once-in-a-century pandemic and I was just going to stop looking at ratings and I haven't looked since 2020. I know, in a generalized sense, where audience demand, what's compelling television, what's not, but day-to-day I just don't look and I don't know. At the most basic level, I can't tell you whether what I'm saying would lead to higher ratings, no change, or lower. I don't know. Literally, all I know is it's the most important story in America and American democracy this year.
Michael Loewinger: You argue that when it comes to the impact of Trump on our democracy, "There's a degree to which luck has been mistaken for providence or stability." What do you mean?
Chris Hayes: Oh, I mean that the pipe bombs didn't go off outside the DNC and RNC when the MAGA bomber tried to bomb a dozen of the people that he thought were Donald Trump's biggest enemies, he didn't kill anyone. On January 6th, the capitol police officers showed insane restraint. There was one woman who was shot and killed with a single shot fired by one police officer when she breached the chamber into which actual members of Congress were, but there could have been dozens killed that day.
Mike Pence could have been grabbed by the mob and dragged to the gallows, or 500 of the rioters could have been shot and killed by cops. All of that's 100% plausible. We got super lucky that didn't happen. We've gotten super lucky that none of the figures that Donald Trump has painted a target on have been assassinated. It feels almost taboo and terrible to even invoke that because obviously, it's a monstrous thought to think about. I think because it's so terrible to imagine and it hasn't quite happened yet, although we've come very close, we have a very false sense of how lucky we've been.
Michael Loewinger: Chris, thank you very much.
Chris Hayes: Thank you.
Michael Loewinger: Chris Hayes is the host of All In With Chris Hayes on MSNBC.
Michael Loewinger: That's it for this week's show. On the Media is produced by Eloise Blondiau, Molly Rosen, Rebecca Clark-Callender, and Candice Wang, with help from Shaan Merchant.
Brooke Gladstone: Our technical director is Jennifer Munson. Our engineers this week were Andrew Nerviano and Brendan Dalton. Katya Rogers is our executive producer. On the Media is a production of WNYC Studios. I'm Brooke Gladstone.
Michael Loewinger: I'm Michael Loewinger.
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