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Trump and the Press

October 22, 2016

Donald Trump’s unconventional attacks on private figures and journalists abandon the traditional norms of interaction between candidates and the media. This poses new challenges for journalists who want to remain neutral while defending their reputation when it comes under attack.

Trump’s inflammatory behavior was on display in August 2015 when Fox News journalist Megyn Kelly moderated the first Republican primary debate. In response to a question challenging his attitudes toward women, Trump began to denounce Kelly over social media, tweeting his contempt for the well-known journalist by referring to her as a “bimbo” and “unprofessional.”

Tensions rose, and Kelly spoke disdainfully about the candidate’s tendency to avoid tough questions. She also chided her colleague, Sean Hannity, for treating Trump too lightly.

“Donald Trump… will go on [Hannity‘s show]… and will not venture out to the unsafe spaces these days,” Kelly said on her show, “The Kelly File.”

As a journalist, Kelly is obligated to strive for impartiality, yet her relationship with Trump has necessarily been anything but. Kelly isn’t the only reporter that has struggled with how to cover Trump — Trump has repeatedly alleged on Twitter and at rallies that the media is biased against him, which puts news sources in a difficult position by making neutral coverage difficult.

“If the disgusting and corrupt media covered me honestly and didn’t put false meaning into the words I say, I would be beating Hillary by 20%,” Trump said in a tweet.

By making the media itself a target for attack and thus defying the usual bounds of acceptable interactions, Trump has challenged journalists to rethink how they interact with candidates and remain unbiased while covering their campaigns. For the moment, Kelly has apparently chosen to ignore the feud and cover Trump like any other candidate. Whether other journalists will follow suit remains to be seen.

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