THE BLOG

In The Media, Trust Will Prevail - Or Have the Rules Really Changed?

27/01/2017 11:26 GMT | Updated 27/01/2017 11:26 GMT
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One of the most extraordinary of many memorable events of the first few days of President Trump has been the escalation, rather than the diminution, of his battle with the media. These confrontations may be taking place in Washington and may appear so ludicrous that it is tempting to ignore them. But there are key implications for anyone who is contact with the press and TV in the UK, as well as on the other side of the Atlantic.

Within hours of the Inauguration, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer attacked reporters for 'falsehoods' over the crowd numbers attending the event, even though the easily-provable facts were clearly not on his side. One commentator compared his ill-tempered address, even on this topic of little importance, to the propaganda techniques of the Soviet-era Kremlin and the Nazis. Meanwhile, just to up the ante even further, the President's adviser and former campaign manager Kellyanne Conway appeared on TV the following morning, describing Mr Spicer's falsehoods as merely 'alternative facts', for which she was much lampooned. The new approach has shown the power of social media, with Trump's extraordinary and sometimes bizarre twitter feed, but it has also demonstrated the risks; he cannot blame media intermediaries for misrepresenting him, when he is plainly representing himself.

But to make intentional enemies of the White House Press Corps is surely a huge mistake, and one which the new President and his team will surely come to regret. So is this the new reality in the media world, where anything goes, however tenuous its link to reality? For the moment, from across the Atlantic, we may have to put up with acres of 'them and us' claims and counter-claims by Breitbart and the Office of the President on the one side, and the massed ranks of the New York Times, CNN, Huffington Post and so on, on the other. This trend may be heading for the UK, with Jeremy Corbyn-supporting The Canary and the newly-launched pro-Brexit site Westmonster.com. But I think this very unstable situation with the American media cannot last indefinitely; they will have to find a better working relationship. This is one of those wars that neither side can win - it can only damage both parties. The President's high-aggression tactics will not appeal far beyond his core supporters; similarly in the UK, the highly-politicised news websites remain, and I believe will continue to remain, very much a minority sport.

In the current febrile atmosphere it is perhaps more crucial than ever that consistent, thoughtful, trustworthy voices continue to make themselves heard among the shouty folk. That's why it is important that business leaders should continue to engage with the media, and help set the agenda. However they will have to take even more care than usual to express themselves in a thoughtful way, so they cannot be accused of trying to score political points. They will need to double-check their facts. But they must not be afraid to speak out clearly when politicians make bad decisions, for example on free trade or Brexit, so long as their points are fact-based; in the long term, they are the ones who will emerge with credibility and credit. The rules may appear to have changed for the moment, but gravity always reasserts itself.