Journalist Peter Boyer and Overby Center Fellow Curtis Wilkie had a heated discussion on Trump’s relationship with the press Wednesday night at the Overby Center.
Boyer, who attended Ole Miss before graduating from UCLA, has worked for publications such as the Associated Press, Los Angeles Times, Vanity Fair and The New York Times. He jointly teaches a class with Wilkie on that same topic as the night’s discussion for the Honors College. The two are close friends.
It did not take long, though, for the discussion to get tense. Boyer argued that Trump has used the press, and that his interactions with the press have all been calculated.
“He has plainly broken the norms that are considered presidential,” Boyer said. “He has baited important institutions like the press to his benefit. It’s important to have a media in America that is a fair presenter of facts. In the Trump era, they have surrendered that position.”
Wilkie retorted that the media is no less fair now than in any other era, and said that a certain level of scrutiny comes with being the president.
“Errors happen all the time, and journalists correct those errors,” Wilkie said. “The situation between the press and any president is, by its nature, going to be adversarial. The press is not there to be public relations agents for any administration. There’s never been a president that didn’t have certain problems with the press, and complained. I think, by-and-large, the coverage of President Trump is fair, and it’s tough.”
The two discussed The New York Times and Washington Post frequently writing about about Trump and his “lies.”
“When I was writing for The Boston Globe about (President) Reagan, we wouldn’t use the word ‘lie.’ We would say that he made something like a ‘questionable statement,’” Wilkie explained.
Boyer pressed Wilkie on this, to which Wilkie arrived at the point that when Trump attacks the press, there is an inclination for the press to defend itself.
“Are you supposed to just sit there and take it? No, you’re going to fight back.”
Boyer argued that this was a concession; the media, in fighting back on Trump’s attacks, has taken on an adversarial role against him.
“Now there’s a concession that the media has become the opposition party,” Boyer said.
The two compared the media’s treatment of President Trump versus that of former President Obama. Boyer stated that while Obama was treated more fairly by the press, Obama also took more serious actions against it. Boyer alluded to claims that the Obama administration tapped former Fox News colleague James Rosen’s parents’ phones in 2012.
“President Obama, who did not draw an equal amount of criticism as President Trump does, put actual journalists’ lives in danger,” Boyer said. “He wiretapped my colleague’s phone. That was actual danger. I don’t think Trump calling the press the ‘enemy of the people’ is an existential threat, although it is offensive.”
Boyer explained that he does not believe that the media will ever return to the state it was before Trump.
“Yes, the moment a Democrat is elected, we will return to journalistic norms,” Boyer said, “but no, it won’t matter. We will have expanded our credibility. The New York Times won’t command the same authority.”
The two also expressed their disdain for the decline of local newspapers.
“One of the greatest tragedies of our time is the ill health of the local newspaper. They reflect the interest of local communities as opposed to the nonsense on the Eastern Seaboard,” Boyer said.
Wilkie said that local newspapers that carry national news via the Associated Press wire are giving local Americans the same news they would get from national papers like The New York Times.
“The AP is trying to report as accurately as they can,” Wilkie said. “Local newspapers that include AP wire for their news will feature the same news as the national papers.”
Charles Overby asked the two to give Trump a piece of advice.
“Tell the truth,” Wilkie said.
Boyer said, “Lose the Twitter account, dude.”