Playing the Trump Card

Fake news has been a long running theme of Trump’s presidency, although last week it seemed to be coming directly from the White House itself.

Just hours after CNN’s chief reporter, Jim Acosta, had disrupted a Trump press conference, the White House shared a video implying the journalist had himself accosted the President’s intern and firmly announced he was no longer welcome.

As the post spread wildly on Twitter and many Trump supporters denounced CNN for its actions, many others began to feel uncomfortable. On closer inspection, it appeared the video had been altered – manipulating Acosta’s actions to look deliberately aggressive.

The video, it was later found, had been made and posted by Paul Joseph Watson of conspiracy site Infowars.

Even today, press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders stands by her actions, claiming the video was “not altered,” just “sped up”.

“They do it all the time in sports to see if there’s actually a first down or a touchdown,” she said.

Whether or not Watson meant to manipulate the video – he said the change in speed was a result of changing the original video into a GIF – the saga once again raises the topic of fake news.

A Presidency which uses external unverified sources for its content is a dangerous move in the wrong direction.

Even more worrying is the continued defence of the video, which millions now know has been manipulated.

While our own Number 10 may sometimes seem slow to react to breaking news – whether that is waiting even half an hour for a terror attack to be confirmed before sending condolences, or waiting sometimes even a full day after the death of a public figure, there is always an understanding that our Government is confirming sources and checking facts before it goes ahead and publicly makes any statement.

In Trump’s Presidency, however, waiting does not appear to be an option. His love of Twitter has had the world living on a knife edge when it comes his impulsive reactions to global matters.

Of course, the irony of Trump spreading fake news and his reaction to ban Acosta could be laughable if the matter wasn’t as serious as a clear attempt to undermine the media and damage the reputation of the press.

As PRs, we are often put in difficult positions when an audience member, customer or journalist, wants to ask a question that your client is unhappy to answer, and we actively assess the risk of this happening – drafting Q&As and statements for this reason.

We’ve all been there in trying to move the conversation along, and some of us have had to deal with the consequences of an unhappy journalist who didn’t get their way and disrupted an event.

Put in a different context – a different client, a different situation and a different level of importance – and perhaps we would also find ourselves in difficult conversations with a client who wanted a journalist blacklisted.

However, unfortunately this isn’t a Christmas in July or a simple product launch.

The actions of the White House set a dangerous precedent, and a worrying realty for any journalist looking to question the President in future.

This article featured on PR Week on 12th November 2018.



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