Posted in Industry Insights

Gaining access and trust in an era of ‘fake news’

, by Lauren Easton

A year into the Trump presidency, Washington Bureau Chief Julie Pace addressed media bias, the state of press access in the current administration and how news organizations can regain public trust in an era of so-called fake news.

Pace joined CNN Chief Political Correspondent Dana Bash and staff writer McKay Coppins of The Atlantic in a panel discussion led by CNN political analyst David Gregory on Monday evening at the University of Chicago Institute of Politics.

Pace assessed the state of press access:

It is true that a lot of what we feared at the start of this administration in terms of press access, our ability to cover the White House, has not come true. The briefings continue. They are on camera. We are still working out of offices in the West Wing, which was an open question for a while. We are still traveling with the president on Air Force One. We still see him most days. And, as I said, we can have more access to him than we did with previous presidents in some cases. That’s the positive side. I actually think that the “fake news” campaign is really dangerous. And it’s not just dangerous here. I work for The Associated Press. We have reporters all over the world in countries where it’s incredibly dangerous to work. We also have reporters in countries where there’s an expectation that there’s a free and fair press — they are western-style democracies. We have seen in Israel, we have seen in Europe, we have seen certainly in places like Turkey and Russia, other leaders picking up the “fake news” term and taking it further than [Trump] has. And that to me is the dangerous effect. It’s not just what’s happening in our press corps but it’s this feeling among other leaders who are willing to cross the line that they can — that he’s opened this door and they can walk through it.
From left, CNN political analyst David Gregory, CNN Chief Political Correspondent Dana Bash, The Atlantic staff writer McKay Coppins and AP Washington Bureau Chief Julie Pace at the University of Chicago Institute of Politics, Jan. 22, 2018. (Courtesy: University of Chicago Institute of Politics)

She went on to address bias in the media.

“There is a climate in the Washington press corps now where we feel like we have to not just report what’s happening, we have to tell you what it means instantly. We have to analyze it. We have to come to a conclusion. And that’s where, to me, the bias shows up the strongest,” Pace said. “Sometimes the smartest thing to do is just to say, ‘This is what happened, make your own decision.’”

She also warned against the dangers of immediately saying Trump’s statements are unprecedented.

“We lose trust with our audiences when we immediately go to the extreme,” she said.

Pace continued:

We have had presidents that have said really controversial things. We have had presidents that have said racist things. We have had presidents that have attacked the media. We have to put this in context. Some of what is so striking about Trump is that we’re hearing about it in real time. That it’s either coming through his Twitter feed, his own comments, his own advisers disseminating it to the media. But not everything he does is actually unprecedented and the first time ever that it’s happened in the White House.

Essential to gaining the public’s trust are three things, according to Pace: news organizations must admit and be transparent about their mistakes, a diversity of coverage must be offered, and journalists must not make access fights about the media:

Sometimes where we have lost trust with the public is when reporters decide that this is their fight. It’s not our fight. This is our fight for the public. And every time that we don’t make that connection, every time we don’t explain, ‘We’re trying to get you access to the president,’ ‘We’re trying to get you access to accurate information,’ and not make it about my own personal seat in a room or my own personal ability to ask a question, I think that trust erodes just a little bit.

Watch a replay of the discussion: