Martin Regg Cohn has just returned from a trip to the United States. And, as Ontario heads into an election -- with Doug Ford leading the parade -- he asked for advice from fellow journalists about how to cover a populist:
I asked an old friend, New York Times White House correspondent Mark Landler, what lessons he has learned from reporting on Trump’s ascendancy. How do you cover a candidate while uncovering the contradictions?
“The only course for journalists is to keep our heads down, keep reporting, keep trying to separate policy from pronouncements and not be intimidated by either Trump’s defenders or those who attack us,” Landler told me. Public figures remain accountable, so their outlandish statements can hardly be ignored, but they can surely be parsed for context and accuracy.
I also asked an old colleague, the Toronto Star’s Washington bureau chief, Daniel Dale, for his unique perspective after first covering the Ford brothers from city hall, and then pioneering a new story structure that deconstructs Trump’s tall tales.
He cautioned against the media’s temptation to give wildly disproportionate space in mid-campaign to the loudest voices. Balanced coverage means not just fair reporting but equal time for the major players, so that those who are most controversial don’t get all the air time.
“One of the biggest failures of the media with Trump was letting him dominate the coverage … it got ratings,” Dale says. “You can’t let his tone and bluster suck up all the oxygen ... You have to be conscious of the balance.”
Cohn reminds his readers that Trump and Ford owe a lot to P.T. Barnum. There is a portrait of Barnum in the National Portrait Gallery. The inscription underneath the picture reads: "The greatest impresario of the 19th Century, P. T. Barnum was a shrewd judge of popular taste and an intuitive master of the art of publicity who tickled the public's imagination and gleefully exploited its credulity for more than 50 years."
Gleefully exploiting the public's credulity is what Donald Trump and Doug Ford are all about.
Image: Daily Mail