Neil Mitchell on Trump vs the Media

The inauguration of Donald Trump has ushered in a brave new world for those working in the media.

Trump’s election phrases of ‘fake news’ and ‘dishonest media’ have taken on a new meaning as the new US president attempts to control information to reflect his agenda.

The quibbling about the size of his inauguration crowd and attacks on news outlets at a CIA briefing and middle of the night Tweets are but the tip of the iceberg.

His team’s defence of his claims as ‘alternative facts’ and a direction from his chief strategist Steve Bannon for the media to ‘keep its mouth shut’ have displayed contempt for traditional media outlets.

Throw in the dismissal of the polling results, leaks from within the White House, the breath-taking invention of the Bowling Green Massacre and an attack on the media for (allegedly) not giving enough coverage of IS attacks and we have an administration running to its agenda.

By its own admission, the Trump administration is now treating the media as the ‘opposition party’ in the US. And we’re not yet a month into his four-year term as President.

But what does that mean for media relations in Australia? Will we see an attempt to hijack the media by our political leaders?

To 3AW’s Neil Mitchell, developments in the US are no real surprise and are the result of a “disconnect” between media and the American people.

“It strikes me that he knows his base pretty well and he’s playing to his base. And that’s why he’s using Twitter like he does. I think it’s going to end badly, but he knows his base.

“I very much get the impression that they (the media) have gone after him and not just editorially. It’s personal.  And you can understand why, but it just adds to the divide.

“Trump supporters saw that he wasn’t being treated fairly and said ‘yeah, he’s right. He’s being Crucified’, and he’s used that”.

“And there’s this belief, and I cop it occasionally from the audience, that there’s a conspiracy to silence them and swamp them with political correctness.”

Mitchell pulls no punches in his assessment of where it all went wrong both here in Australia and in the US. The veteran broadcaster believes the media has broken its contract with the audience, allowing the ‘false news’ cynicism to take root.

“We keep talking about this disconnect with politicians, well I think there’s a pretty big disconnect with the media. I think a lot of people have been operating for too long with their heads up their bums.

“Look at current affairs TV. It’s basically crap, and a lot of it is irrelevant to the audience because they feel that they’re being patronised or lectured to. I think that’s happened in the United States and I think it’s happening here.”

For Mitchell, getting back to basics will help repair the fractured relationship with the audience and restore trust in the media.

“I think the only thing you can do is rebuild that relationship. You rebuild the trust so that they know you’re working for them and talking with them and not at them.

“We try to do it by campaigning on little issues for the little guy. You know, the ‘average’ person, who comes along and says ‘can you help me with this’. If you fight for them, you earn their trust.

“There are still some in talk radio who will set the agenda according to what they think people should be interested in, rather than what people ARE interested in. We’ve got to realise that people are sceptical and stop treating them as stupid.”

Mitchell also believes we need to temper the attacks or risk fuelling the scepticism that can be exploited by the likes of Trump and Pauline Hanson.

“Look, they went after Trump, and the same thing happened with Pauline Hanson the last time she was elected. People really went after her. There was that 60 Minutes ‘please explain’ thing.  They mocked her and the more they did that, the stronger she got.

“I remember John Howard making the point; she’s been legitimately elected, and you’ve got to stop mocking her because that will only strengthen her”.

With the outrageous comments made by Trump or on behalf of the US President, the natural inclination is to ‘take the piss’. While we can back off on the ‘mockrage’ of Trump, there is still a need to report on and respond to the President’s actions and policy decisions.

“We need to report fairly and analyse at length, but you don’t need to persecute him, and that’s what some of the media in the US has been doing.

“You can see why.  I think the bloke is a disaster and a real problem, but he’s still the democratically elected President of the United States.  We’ve got to try to treat what he says and does with a degree of fairness.  If you reckon he’s wrong, you go after him, but you’ve got to be fair.”


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