As fake news dominates the American political stage, the credibility of the “mainstream media” is questioned, and President-elect Donald Trump calls CNN “a terrible organization," many journalists are struggling with how to proceed in the age of Trump.
Luckily, Willie Geist, the host of NBC’s “Sunday TODAY with Willie Geist” and co-host of MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” gave some tips.
Geist joined student reporters from the University of Pennsylvania, University of Virginia, University of Miami and New York University in a phone conference on Wednesday, where he talked all things media, politics and of course, 1968 Wharton graduate Donald Trump.
“Honest to God,” Geist said, “now is a great time to be in our business.”
Geist said the election has "reignited a lot of peoples’ fire — fire that should always be there."
“The job is critically important," he added. "It was critically important when Obama was president for eight years, and it’s critically important now.”
When asked about Trump’s relationship with congressional Republicans, Geist said, “So much of what he says flies in the face of Republican and conservative orthodoxy. I don’t think he realizes; because the truth is, he hasn’t been a Republican for very long.”
And in reference to Trump's stance on universal healthcare and negotiating with insurance companies, Geist said Republicans “have got a different animal to contend with than they’ve ever had in the history of the Congress.”
Geist said this reveals Trump’s misunderstanding of a process so fundamentally central to both his campaign and his character: deal making.
“He’s going to have to work with these people, and that’s something I don’t think he understands,” Geist said. “Yes, you can sign executive orders on some things, but the way things get done — despite priding himself on being an outsider — is by reaching your hand out, and making the deals that he is so proud of himself for having made his entire life.”
He switched gears to journalism, and got critical.
“Our job is not to throw up every tweet he puts out and put it on the screen," he said. “Although it’s tantalizing sometimes to talk about this latest shot at Saturday Night Live, or Meryl Streep, or whatever his cultural backlash of the moment is, you have to be a filter.”
“I’ve always thought that objectivity was impossible, because we are human beings and we have biases within us," Geist said. "But fairness needs to be the goal. If we all strive for fairness, we’ll be in good shape.”
Geist also spoke about the inauguration.
“I think we’re going to see a spectacle in 48 hours like we’ve never seen before,” Geist said. “In terms of who’s there, who’s not there — it’ll be a very different event. It will be reflective of the beginning of his presidency.”
And for Geist, the beginning of Trump’s presidency will be defined by protests.
“Hillary Clinton won 3 million more votes than Donald Trump did,” he said. “Those people are frustrated, and they will oppose him at every turn, as they’ve done throughout the transition.”
Geist continued, “Protests are a great expression of what people should be doing."
Another topic that he addressed with both passion and ambivalence was the standoff between Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.) and the president-elect. The journalist, who said he watched the film "Selma" on his flight to Los Angeles, stated with conviction that he has “infinite respect” for Lewis and that the civil rights leader is a “true hero.” However, he fears what Lewis’ comments toward the president-elect may symbolize.
“There’s been this trend for the last 25 years where your opponent is not only wrong, but evil, in politics,” Geist lamented. “It’s not just, ‘I disagree with your politics on X,’ but ‘I think you’re a bad person for feeling that way.’”
“It feels like there’s no rational middle ground,” Geist added. “I hope we stop and take a look at what we’re doing right now, because there may be some long term social and cultural damage.”
But, as for journalists, “what we have to do is fight that with facts,” he said. “It’s what we’ve always been doing. It’s always been our mandate.”
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