ABC focuses on Trump’s cost to taxpayers, highlights hypocrisy
On Feb. 17 ABC did a three-minute story focusing on how much Trump is costing taxpayers. ABC’s Mary Bruce reported directly from Mar-a-lago, President Donald Trump’s weekend home in Florida.
Bruce noted Trump’s previous criticism of Obama’s numerous vacations and golf sessions. However, she pointed out, this was at the time Trump’s third visit to Mar-a-lago since his inauguration. Next, ABC gave specific numbers – an Obama 2013 trip to Palm Beach cost $3 million dollars. The current administration, Bruce said, “won’t provide dollar figures.”
Bruce also showed footage of barricades and police cars stationed alongside the roads for security. ABC included additional material, such as Sean Spicer insisting that these are working weekends and a campaign quote from Trump saying he’d rarely leave the White House if elected.
Anchor David Muir also pointed out government expenditures to protect Melania and Barron Trump while they remain in New York.
Richard Harris, former executive at NPR and senior producer at ABC News, said he thought the supplementary material, especially Trump’s 2012 Tweet about Obama’s expensive vacation, was crucial in making ABC’s story a good one.
“On this kind of thing, I don’t think it’s a question of being first, it’s a question of how you do it,” Harris said. “I think that the fact that Mary Bruce included the kind of hypocrisy angle…makes [Trump] more vulnerable to criticism about how much he’s costing the taxpayers.”
NBC and CBS both mentioned Trump’s most recent trip to Mar-a-lago, but simply in passing.
Scott Pelley began the evening saying: “The president flew out of Washington today, leaving behind a sense of insecurity in national security.”
Lester Holt went a little further: “Tonight President Trump is at his private plot in Palm Beach, Florida, his third weekend there since taking office, after a day spent in South Carolina, delivering a campaign-style speech at a Boeing plant, and checking out the company’s 787-10 Dreamliner aircraft, still being built.”
However, ABC used Trump’s trip as a gateway into taxpayer expenses.
Did ABC add an important layer of reporting to this story, or was it an interesting, but unnecessary, piece?
“I think ABC decided to do an enterprise story that differentiated them from the rest. I don’t think what they did means that NBC or CBS ‘missed an opportunity,’” wrote Madhulika Sikka, former executive editor for NPR and Mic, in an email. “To me this is just about different story choices.”
Harris said he thought ABC did a “very good job” in dealing with both federal and local expenses in Florida as well as for Melania and Barron in New York.
However, Harris agreed that CBS and NBC did not necessarily miss the story.
“This story is an important one, but again I think you can judge it over time and if after a month of the presidency one of those other networks haven’t done the taxpayer story in some way then I think there is criticism,” he said.