Four of the most pedigreed reporters on the politics beat managed to find some rays of hope in the current moment of White House media coverage during a vigorous and wide-ranging panel discussion at the New Yorker Festival.
For starters, “Thank God we have his tweets,” exclaimed Carl Bernstein. “It’s like a road map to the mind of Donald Trump.” Greg Miller of the Washington Post agreed, calling the tweets “footage” from the turbulent first months of the presidency.
Jane Mayer, the New Yorker staff writer whose 2016 book Dark Money explored the incursion of wealthy donors in the political system, emphasized her belief that, as in Shakespeare, the truth will out. “The truth comes out,” she said. “It sometimes takes a while but it comes out. … There’s a strong public-service streak that people in public office have when they see power being abused.”
Mayer added that the Russia investigation, as consequential as it is, need not be the sole focus of people wanting to scrutinize the Trump Administration. A number of angles on Russia were shared over the course of the 90-minute panel, with everyone agreeing that the willingness of Republicans to publicly criticize Trump has increased.
Jo Becker of the New York Times observed that even if the Russia probe being led by Robert Mueller proves to be a seismic event in Washington, the media landscape is so different that it could play out as surprisingly as the 2016 election did. When Bernstein noted the oft-told tale of CBS anchor Walter Cronkite’s attention to the Washington Post‘s reporting on Watergate putting the issue on the national agenda, Becker said if the same story unfolded today, “It would be Rachel Maddow preaching to the converted” on MSNBC “and then Fox News would go after you and Bob” Woodward.
The deep divisions of the country got ample mention, with Bernstein calling it a time of “Cold Civil War” between left and right, rural and urban. Miller, who grew up in a remote California logging town with a population of 500, said he experiences the divide in the country every day on Facebook. “I have my friends from school and I have my friends from Washington,” he said. “My school friends all think I’m fake news. They didn’t think I was fake in 5th grade but now I do.”
Later during the audience Q&A, he picked up on that theme and said, “We’re losing a large part of the country,” which has given up on mainstream media. “And I don’t think they’re coming back.”