Four national political journalists with ties to Philadelphia discussed the state of the press during a conversation at Penn Law School Tuesday night.
In a two-hour panel, they evaluated how their profession has been affected by President Trump and how to deal with challenges to the media in a polarized environment.
The event, labeled “Free Press in the Trump Age,” was organized by local media organization The Philadelphia Citizen, in partnership with Penn’s Annenberg School of Communication and the Lenfest Institute for Journalism.
Larry Platt, the editor of The Philadelphia Citizen, moderated the panel discussion. He was joined by 2005 College graduate and Washington Post White House correspondent Ashley Parker, Philadelphia Inquirer Washington correspondent Jonathan Tamari, and MSNBC Business correspondent Ali Velshi.
Although Parker said every journalist has to modify their reporting when a new president is elected, she added that her daily schedule was particularly affected by Trump's presidency. The Post journalist said that, at times, she has to work the “hot-seat” beat, requiring her to wake up at around 6 a.m. and report on every tweet the president sends that morning.
In addition, Parker said that the volatile nature of the Trump White House has led the Post to go to greater lengths when reporting stories dealing with the administration.
“In order to write accurate stories we need to talk to 23 people,” Parker said. “Only by talking to a kaleidoscope of people can we feel confident in exposing the truth as we best know it to our readers.”
For Tamari, his role as the sole member of the Inquirer’s Washington bureau means he can’t follow Trump’s every movement.
“I try to take a step back and focus on bigger-picture stories,” he said.
Throughout the discussion, the panelists repeatedly stressed the increased level of criticism journalists have been receiving from the public in recent years.
One example came from MSNBC host Ali Velshi, who experienced immense backlash from left-wing critics after he posed for a picture with White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders at a White House Correspondents Dinner after-party.
“That is just one example of polarization in the world we live in,” he said.
Tamari also shared his encounters with reader outrage and said conservative critics have tried to send threatening messages to his private Facebook account. The Inquirer reporter also said there has been more and more vitriol from liberals who urge him to actively categorize Trump’s actions as wrong.
“For these critics, if you’re not reporting with the same strident tone that people who dislike Trump have, then you’re not doing your job,” Tamari said. “But if we are come to be seen as just an arm of ‘the Resistance,’ then we become very limited.”
The panel also came to terms with a number of challenges facing the media, including so-called "echo chambers"(where personal beliefs are amplified by partisan news consumption) and the press' loss of credibility.
The journalists discussed the increasing tendency of media consumers to only turn to sources that match up with their ideology, an issue that Velshi said he grapples with in his role as a television host.
“Are we giving you the fullest story possible, or are we reinforcing the bubble in which you live in?” Velshi asked.
Tamari echoed those same concerns and shared fears that some Americans simply tune out facts that clash with their preconceived notions.
“People silo themselves off from news they don’t want to hear,” Tamari said. “It’s a big problem.”
Tamari added that the suspicion of the media fostered by Trump provides a major obstacle for journalists.
“There will be people now who will never trust the media again, and that’s the power of the presidency,” Tamari said. “As reporters we can do our jobs as best as we can and hope people value accurate information.”
The journalists said that the President, who has called the news media the "enemy of the American people," is unlikely to be removed from office anytime soon. When asked by an audience member whether they believed President Trump could last in office, the panelists said they didn’t think Trump was going anywhere.
Velshi said he believed Trump is far from a liability for congressional Republicans and that, as long as this remains true, he will enjoy the support of his party.
Parker agreed that the president was here to stay and forecasted a possible second term for Trump.
“I don’t think he will get impeached, and I think he will run for re-election,” Parker said. “And there is a good chance he will win re-election.”
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