NBC, CBS Take Opposite Approaches in Reporting Trump Press Conference
As national news networks are scrutinized for potential bias, NBC and CBS broadcasts on Feb. 16 characterized Donald Trump’s first press conference as president very differently.
NBC anchor Lester Holt began by contrasting how liberals and conservatives viewed the speech. He also acknowledged its unique nature compared to previous presidents.
It’s been written about from the left as a meltdown and heralded on the right tonight as the trashing of the media in an epic news conference, and whether viewed from the right, left or center, what we witnessed at today’s news conference by President Trump was pretty much unlike anything we’ve heard from behind a presidential podium.
CBS anchor Scott Pelley focused on Trump’s aggressive disposition and tendency for hyperbole, which continued in the day’s press conference.
Today we learned the length of the president’s fuse: 28 days. After four weeks of being blocked by courts, challenged by Congress and held to account by the public, President Trump called a hasty news conference and went on offense with the familiar tools that built his career: bluster, bravado, exaggeration and a few loose facts.
Both networks covered similar broad themes of Trump’s press conference. NBC appeared neutral; CBS, with comments on the president’s demeanor, did not.
Journalist and author Hooman Majd thought NBC did the right thing by including both viewpoints.
“Trump is the legitimate president under the rules of the presidency [and] was elected by millions of supporters, many of whom still support him,” he said. “To ignore those Americans is to do the public a disservice…I wouldn’t say NBC’s approach was smart so much as correct.”
Majd was turned off by Scott Pelley’s approach on CBS, which he viewed as insulting.
“I would say that Pelley probably went too far,” Majd said. “While according to a strict definition Trump probably did employ ‘bluster,’ and by any standard has demonstrably played loose with facts, to open a newscast by demeaning him in the way he did is not a neutral reading of the news.”
Andrew Tyndall, publisher of the Tyndall Report, argued that Holt’s labeling of viewpoints as left or right was “lazy,” because they did not involve clear ideological divisions. He said, “There is nothing ‘left’ about worrying about a presidential meltdown. Everybody worries about that.”
Tyndall disagreed with Majd regarding CBS’s approach, because everything Pelley said was accurate.
“Journalists should always be encouraged to seek out the most vivid and colorful vocabulary they can think of to make an accurate description of whatever they are reporting on,” Tyndall said. “The fact that such reporting may include value judgments is no impediment–as long as those value judgments can be substantiated.”
In comparing the two broadcasts, Tyndall said, “Pelley’s was bolder, more vivid, more opinionated, which are all journalistic virtues. Holt’s was less accurate, inasmuch as it implied that ‘meltdown’ and ‘media-trashing’ were opposite and exclusive categories, rather than compatible.”
More from Hooman Majd:
- “I think the media has been relatively tone-deaf in its not understanding that talking down to, or disparaging Trump and his supporters (as Hillary did with ‘deplorables’) is what helps, rather than hurts Trump. Plus, it isn’t good journalism.”
- “It is this kind of reporting [by CBS] that makes Trump sound right to his supporters when he disparages the ‘elite’ media. I could see that Pelley just gave him fodder for his next victory rally.”
- “NBC didn’t, as far as I could see, try to sugarcoat Trump’s performance, and certainly indicating that it was highly unusual, if not unprecedented, was enough to signal to the audience that this is not politics as usual.”
More from Andrew Tyndall:
- “If you look at NBC’s newscast, you will see that ‘bluster, bravado, exaggeration’ were hardly controversial characterizations. NBC’s Kristen Welker used several terms that are largely synonymous: ‘fiery,’ ‘lashing out,’ ‘defiant,’ ‘stream-of-consciousness quality.’”
- “I am not sure that the presence or absence of ‘bias’ is the correct word to describe that difference [between the two networks]. Too often ‘unbiased’ turns out to be nothing but a euphemism for ‘afraid to draw journalistic conclusions from the evidence at hand.’ If it turns out to be accurate that the press conference was truly ‘bizarre’ then it would be biased to refrain from characterizing it as such, if the motive for refraining happened to be a fear of seeming biased.”
- “At first, Holt seemed less biased (in the sense of afraid to draw journalistic conclusions). But in the long run, viewers of both newscasts would have come to the undeniable conclusion that Donald Trump’s verbal style is indeed full of bluster, bravado, exaggeration — and a few loose facts. It shows no bias whatsoever to describe Trump’s verbal style thus — any more than it would show bias to call Barack Obama’s press-conference style long-winded, professorial, punctilious and painfully formal.”