When Donald Trump tweeted that the Press was an “enemy of the American people,” I needed to talk with award winning international journalist, Jim Clancy. In a 2-part series I talked to Clancy about the state of journalism in the post-Obama era, how the press should operate in the Trump era, foreign policy and how scared the rest of us should be. To my surprise, he offered a mix of caution and optimism.
Journalism is about to experience a renaissance. At least that wasthe optimistic impression I got while speaking with award winning journalist and former CNN anchor, Jim Clancy. “Intimidation tactics [by the new administration] are not going to work,” he explained. “Journalists are taking their jobs more seriously than they have in years.”
I asked him what the motivation for the employment of such tactics, like the recent tweet by Donald Trump declaring the media “the enemy of the American people,” might be. As you might expect, Clancy concluded this new message—following a sustained barrage of insults directed at the press—was “an effort to curtail his critics.” Trump develops an argument or a train of thought that challenges “whether or not the press has a right to ask him questions.” By making it all about “Fake News” he avoids questions about his taxes and business conflicts, etc.
“Journalists are taking their jobs more seriously than they have in years.”
Clancy expressed audible enthusiasm at the opportunity presented to his successors in the press. When asked if interns should be sent to cover the daily briefings or Trump press conferences, he swatted it away. “The media has an obligation to cover the press conferences.” He clarified by pointing out the need to continue the attempt to ask the hard questions but perhaps even more important, to fact check. “The Washington Post has real-time fact checking.” The greater challenge is making sure that the public sees the correction, but Clancy expressed confidence that the press will adapt to the new environment.
The seasoned journalist pointed out that not all criticism of the press by the administration should be dismissed. Clancy instead framed some of it as obstacles to overcome. “In bringing the truth to the American people, the press can’t simply ignore the critique of using anonymous sources made by White House Chief of Staff Reince Preibus. They need to seek out better sources and sources that will go on the record.” He said, “Their fact checking needs to be immaculate because any mistakes they make will be exploited and likely called ‘fake news.’” The news media has to clarify when they are sharing “facts, analysis or opinion,” (and we all need to be able to discern what simple propaganda is.)
On the White House expanding access to the press briefings to outside outlets he offered this, “The press is one of those industries that you don’t get a license. Religious outlets, blogs should have their voices heard but need to be held as accountable as anyone else in the room.” He argued that while their qualifications should be clarified, “Why they say it is more important than what they say.” It’s their agenda that should be scrutinized. Do they ask good questions? Or do they just ask questions to push their agendas.
“Why they say it is more important than what they say.”
Trump called the media “the enemy of the American people” on Twitter which prompted a hashtag celebrating journalists who not only risked their lives but also many who gave their lives. In light of the fact that thousands felt compelled to tell the president that the press is #NotTheEnemy, I asked Clancy how afraid we should be. To my surprise, Jim said he wasn’t scared at all and we shouldn’t be either. Unlike the dictators abroad, “The US is set up with checks and balances that are working.” Even if Congress fails to check the executive, the courts have already proven by blocking the administration’s Muslim ban that the system is built to protect people.
The other important check on the executive branch is the press itself. Clancy indicated that journalists from Russia and Turkey have been “previewing [to American reporters] what to expect.” With Trump flirting with authoritarian style leadership the foreign press dealing with Putin and Erdoğan have unique insight. The political weapon of choice for authoritarians is one that candidate Donald Trump threatened to unleash during the 2016 campaign: Opening up libel laws to silence the press.
“The criminal defamation laws can be used to put smaller newspapers out of business.” Clancy clarified, “People with deep pockets can put small journalists out of business” by using their lawyers to wrap journalistic organizations up in court and drain their resources through legal fees (in cases that they don’t even have to win) until they are no longer able to do their jobs. This threat, of course, could have a chilling effect on any country’s press but Clancy doesn’t see that happening in the United States. Despite the recent demise of Gawker, he sees an emboldened press and feels that if Trump would pursue his campaign promise of opening up libel laws, “he would meet a wall of opposition all the way to the Supreme Court.” Given Trump’s first attempt at overreach and how it was handled in the court, Jim Clancy is putting his trust in America’s Constitutional system.
His confidence is infectious. In Part 2 Mr. Clancy will talk about foreign policy subjects surrounding China, North Korea and Russia in the age of Trump and how the public and the press can hope to make the most of the situation we find ourselves in.
GO TO PART 2
Journalism in the Age of Trump: The Jim Clancy Interview Part 2
February 22, 2017
“A lie travels around the world before the truth puts on its shoes.” It’s a maxim traced back, in one form or another to before American independence. But it as true today as it was then. Journalism in the age of Trump is in need of honest brokers. I found one, in of all places, Twitter. A man who believes in solid sourcing and “going above and beyond” to overcome inherent biases in oneself when covering someone you wouldn’t normally agree with: Jim Clancy sat down with Majority 60 to talk journalism in the age of Trump.
Last Sunday, former CNN anchor and renowned international reporter, Jim Clancy sat down with Majority 60 to talk about an array of issues from journalism in the age of Donald Trump to the issues the country can’t ignore.
Clancy was very generous with his time, and I took notes as quickly as I could as he deftly answered subject after subject. Exceedingly chipper and gracious, he spoke highly of CNN and raved about finally getting to enjoy his “retirement car” that had been faithfully waiting for him.
I sought Clancy out because he fits the mold I most frequently associate with the late Tim Russert—when dealing with a Democrat, he sounds like a Republican and when dealing with a Republican, he sounds like a Democrat. This indicates that Mr. Clancy is an honest broker.
“Trump uses up all of the oxygen.”
When I asked him how well he considers the news media is faring, considering that since Trump took office we’ve had deadly storms across the South, the Orville Dam in California had a giant sink hole causing nearly 200,000 people to temporarily flee their homes, and in foreign policy, North Korea completed a missile test and the nation’s dictator’s brother-in-law was murdered—Clancy observed, “Trump uses up all of the oxygen.” Normally the phrase is, ‘in the room,’ but that wasn’t how the seasoned journalist finished the phrase. “Reporters aren’t just dealing with a new president,” he explained, “[Trump]’s so different from other presidents. But all news is local so I would encourage people to watch local news.” He’s been noticing that local news stations are picking up the slack for the national news. “The story may be deserving of national attention,” but with the circus in Washington, Clancy stressed the importance of local coverage.
What news should we be hearing more about? “North Korea. Kim Jung Un uses this tactic.” When things are happening in the country and he wants to direct the public’s attention he’ll “inject himself into the headlines,” by doing something outrageous. China, “In an act that can only be interpreted as a response to the missile test—China doesn’t acknowledge punitive measures—banned coal imports from the North.” Clancy described this as huge. “It’s a sign that China is taking the situation seriously.”
North Korea is far more strategically important than is readily discussed by the American press. Known mainly by its seclusion and its maniacal dictator, the North serves as a buffer between the United States that has tens of thousands of troops in South Korea and China and its emerging military power. But also, as a propaganda buffer between the Chinese people and a, “US success story. South Korea is a glowing example of how working hard and applying the rules of democracy can lead to success.”
It’s unclear if Trump understands, or is even interested in, learning about this complex international relationship. But the lack of attention paid to this critical subject isn’t helping. Clancy warns, “The news media makes a mistake focusing on personality instead of ideas. What ideas are good? Which ones are bad?”
“…Do you know how much Reagan and Carter paid [for TV time]? Zero.”
With this constant coverage of personality, focus is off of important issues (and important debate). Declaring, “The corporate media put Trump in power,” Clancy doesn’t say they did it for principle or ideology but, instead, they did it for “ratings and profit. Other candidates had to pay a lot of money [for TV time]. Do you know how much Reagan and Carter paid?” He challenged, “Zero.”
It was a publically funded election.
Clancy wants to see real debate on infrastructure in the United States. China is investing in 19,000 miles of high speed rail by 2020. “We don’t have anything like that here. We’re talking about repairing roads and bridges. We should be talking about reforms to the EPA, cuts to bureaucracy, public broadcasting… Will coalminers be helped more by retraining for the solar industry?”
The clear message he sends is that we can’t debate vigorously about any of these subjects without talking about them. “Pain comes with change.” There’s always room for improvement but, “America is not the carnage that Trump claims to be saving us from.”
If you’d like to hear more from Jim you can follow him on twitter @clancyreports. He enjoys interacting and tries to share things he thinks his readers would find interesting. He says, “Read trade magazines and journals from places that you aren’t likely to agree with. Read a lot.”
Avoid living in a bubble.
To read more from Jim Clancy today, follow him on Twitter @ClancyReports