How White House Coverage Will Change
The standard honeymoon period for a new president is 100 days.
It didn’t completely happen with Donald Trump, as nothing about his presidency was traditional or normal. He came out swinging with the obvious lie about crowd size at his inauguration, and the media was forced to fact check it. Honeymoon over on day two. The question now is how long will Joe Biden’s grace period last? Covering the Trump White House the last four years was a constant scramble. Trump had journalists jumping through hoops, practically hourly, to keep up with downright Shakespearian twists and turns. Like the rest of us, reporters were trying to make sense of something we had never experienced; a wannabe dictator in the White House with a semi-complicit legislative branch. In a way, Trump and the media had a somewhat codependent relationship. Although Trump and his people constantly attacked and degraded journalists and their news organizations, his erratic behavior and frequent scandals caused cable-news ratings to skyrocket. Michelle Wolf said it best at the 2018 White House Correspondence Dinner when she joked: “You act like you hate him, but I think you really love him. You helped create this monster, and now you’re profiting off of him.”
And TV outlets did. So, are reporters and news organizations happy Joe Biden won, or are they happy Trump is gone? We can be fairly certain the new president will not be referring to the free press as the “enemy of the people.” Political writer Tom Jones said Trump will not be missed by most of the news media. Or will he? Let’s face the cold, hard truth. Trump knew how to play the game. He knew he had to be covered. Every tweet and every press conference. When he couldn't travel, he usurped the coronavirus press briefings and turned them into televised rallies. Trump was good at two things -- manipulating the media and capturing our full attention. With Biden, the media can go back to covering a White House that will be focused on policy. There will be plenty to cover, as the new president seeks solutions to the absolute mess he will inherit. Considering the multitude of crises Trump is dumping in Biden's lap, it is conceivable the press may extend its grace period well past the standard 100 days.
At some point, it will stop, and the questions will get tougher. The Fox News machine, obviously, will never give Biden any grace period. But I am speaking about real journalists, not court jesters with a media platform. The stories in the mainstream press will, and should, shift focus to address policies. That is assuming Biden runs a scandal-free White House, like Barack Obama. The GOP will still be there to obstruct the Biden-Harris team at every turn, and that will need extensive analysis and coverage. We don’t know how Biden will govern. Will he try and reach across the aisle? We all know exactly where that will lead. Nowhere, if Mitch McConnell and Republicans retain control of the Senate. The media will have to walk a balance and come to terms with Trump remaining a constant figure. He will always crave attention and covet the spotlight. However, the media shouldn’t bite.
As Margaret Sullivan recently wrote in The Washington Post: “The media should — for once — decline to take the bait. Don’t allow him to become a self-styled president in exile, the golf-cart version of Napoleon on Elba. Do not set up a Mar-a-Lago bureau. Don’t have entire reporting beats dedicated to what he and his family members are up to. And, for God’s sake, stop writing about his unhinged tweets.” Trump will continue to be covered. He isn’t going anywhere, and his ongoing criminal investigations will require attention.
The coverage will be different, and it will be more of what we are used to seeing from the White House press briefings. It will definitely be a relief to put this tumultuous four years to bed.
It’s long past time for the 24-hour Trump news cycle to end.