Journalists and the administration of President Donald Trump must improve their relationship, according to four journalists in a panel discussion hosted in the Intercultural Center on Wednesday.
The panel, hosted by John Kirby, former spokesperson for the U.S. Department of State, included Yamiche Alcindor (COL ’09), a national reporter for The New York Times, Justin Green, the Newsdesk editor for Axios, Sarah Harvard, a staff writer for Mic.com and Lewis Wallace, a freelance writer and reporter.
The event was part of the Georgetown journalism program’s Salim El-Lozi Lecture Series, which aims to educate the Georgetown community on the value of a free press.
According to Green, one of the challenges of reporting on the Trump administration is the lack of communication from government sources to address questions. Trump Press Secretary Sean Spicer barred journalists from publications including The New York Times and the BBC from a press briefing Feb. 24.
Green said those in government need to work more with journalists before a story is published to ensure its authenticity instead of simply attacking them afterwards for it. The Trump administration has called a number of publications — including CNN and The New York Times — “fake news,” in disputes over the content of their articles.
“Oftentimes for reporters, you will say, ‘Hello, DHS? I want a comment on this, or I have this thing, can you confirm or deny it? You’ll get nothing back,” Green said. “So you’ll publish a story, and you turn around and there’s [disputes] incoming. That has been a challenge.”
Green said those covering the White House also struggle with a relative lack of experience. According to Green, many of those working in news organizations during administrations prior to President Barack Obama’s or President George W. Bush’s have moved on to other jobs in the private sector.
“There are not a lot of mid-level editors, there are not a lot of mid-level reporters,” Green said. “As legacy organizations keep shedding people, those people in their thirties and forties now work in PR and their expertise and institutional memory seems to be fading away.”
According to Harvard, journalists must be careful about what they publish in an era of hyper partisanship. Harvard published an email where a woman alleged a Caucasian male harassed her because she was a Native American woman. After Harvard published the e-mail on her Twitter feed, she was accused of sending out ‘fake news’ by reporters from the Daily Caller and Fox News because she did not verify the woman’s story.
“Next thing I know, I got an e-mail from Tucker Carlson on Fox News who wants me to go on air and discuss the left wing mainstream media putting out fake news about Donald Trump,” Harvard said. “The whole time I thought, I’m going to get fired.”
Alcindor said remaining objective must extend to the sourcing process. Whatever their personal views, Alcindor said, journalists must push back against interviewees if they have pre-judged the journalist’s perspective.
“I think you have to push back. People will assume you are too much on their side,” Alcindor said. “Even if it is helping your story, you are getting access, I think it has served me very well to remind people that I am not an activist.”
Alcindor said an understanding of past events is important for journalists. She praised her Georgetown education as something she can use every day at her job for The New York Times due to the pertinence of historical facts in contextualizing the news.
“To me, while the college gets this rub of being a place where people who didn’t know what to do with their lives go to ponder themselves for four years, the degree that I got from college is literally put to work all the time,” Alcindor said.