6 Aug 2020

Midweek Mediawatch 5 August 2020

From Mediawatch, 11:18 am on 6 August 2020

Mediawatch's weekly catch-up with Lately. This week Hayden Donnell talks to Karyn Hay about an incredible interview with Donald Trump - and a sudden dearth of Mike's Minutes on the Herald website.

At last, a good interview with Donald Trump

Axios reporter Jonathan Swan's recent interview with Donald Trump has been shared widely across the world. That’s partly because sections of it resemble a Monty Python skit.  

Swan’s reactions to some of Trump’s statements have also been extensively memed. 

A reaction meme from Jonathan Swan's Trump interview

A reaction meme from Jonathan Swan's Trump interview Photo: Twitter

But the main reason the interview has been widely praised is because Swan was able to cut through Trump's misdirections and expose the at-best flimsy evidence underpinning some of his more outlandish claims.

Commentators searching for the secret to his success have often settled on a conclusion that could be seen as embarrassing for the US political press corps.

In what has widely been referred to as a self-own, CNN said Swan’s interview was different because he bothered to ask basic follow-up questions.  

Its fact-checker Daniel Dale highlighted one section of the interview, where Swan refused to accept Trump’s claim that testing for Covid-19 is overrated:

Trump: "You know, there are those that say you can test too much, you do know that."

Swan: "Who says that?"

Trump: "Oh, just read the manuals. Read the books."

Swan: "Manuals? What manuals?"

Trump: "Read the books. Read the books."

Swan: "What books?"

Trump didn’t have an answer.

Part of the reason Swan was more effective could be that he’s Australian, and US journalists are more inclined to have a sense of deference to the office of President. 

It’s also true that Trump’s team usually picks more sympathetic reporters for these types of sitdown interviews.

Swan may have seemed like an easy mark for Trump’s team. He was criticised as “grotesque” and a Trump “bootlicker” after excitedly breaking the news that the US President was about to sign an executive order banning birthright citizenship in 2018. 

His rigorous performance this time around may have been aided by the element of surprise.

But the journalism professor Jay Rosen has also written extensively about another possible reason why most other Trump interviewers, and reporters, fail.

He says US journalists have always struggled to accept a president that won’t conform to norms; that isn’t constrained or embarrassed by deception; that has little or no substance behind his statements.  

To acknowledge the truth - that the emperor has no clothes - would make them seem biased, and for many journalists, whether they acknowledge it or not, there’s no worse sin than that, he says. 

A tweet from Jay Rosen on press bias

A tweet from Jay Rosen on press bias Photo: Twitter

As a result, Rosen says Trump is often sanitised or held to a lower standard. His words are summarised to seem more legible. His misleading statements are reported credulously.  

Now for once that’s been short-circuited, thanks to an Australian deciding to ask the simple questions like ‘why?’, ‘how?’, and ‘what?’

A reduction in Mike’s Minutes

A screenshot from a Mike's Minute

A screenshot from a Mike's Minute Photo: NZME

For years, Newstalk ZB host Mike Hosking has been almost omnipresent in the opinion section of the New Zealand Herald website. 

Both Newstalk and the Herald are owned by media company NZME, and their readers have been furnished with Hosking’s thoughts on everything from why we need a Covid-19 lockdown, to why a Covid-19 lockdown was a mistake, on an almost daily basis. 

Lately though, the incidence of Hosking content has reduced on the Herald’s site. 

Mike’s Minute - the two-to-four minute video segment where Hosking records his thoughts for Newstalk ZB each morning - hasn’t been posted by the Herald since July 2. Before that, it was posted almost daily.

The ZB star still writes weekly Herald opinion pieces, and his thoughts are still promoted on Newstalk ZB’s website and Facebook page, but his reach has taken a hit.

An NZME source told Mediawatch pockets of the newsroom are concerned over the Herald website republishing Newstalk ZB content.

Their concerns were expressed following the publication of an article by journalist Teuila Fuatai in the Herald on June 29, in which she wrote about “the difficulties of writing for an organisation that I feel is yet to properly examine how racism operates within its own walls.”

Herald editor Murray Kirkness promised to “do better” in a response printed under the article.

In mid-July, he sent an email to all staff announcing he was setting up a new newsroom committee which would advocate for diversity and inclusion.

Kirkness said the paper would also:

  • Publish a more diverse set of columnists and writers.

  • Keep an open mind to story ideas that wouldn’t always get approved.

  • Run workshops on diversity and inclusion.

  • Negotiate new content sharing partnerships that would deliver different perspectives.

A screenshot from a Mike's Minute

A screenshot from a Mike's Minute Photo: NZME

Hosking has been accused of racism over the years, most notably in 2017 when he said “middle New Zealand” wouldn’t back New Plymouth mayor Andrew Judd’s push for Māori wards at his local council.

Those comments were criticised by his then-TVNZ colleagues Miriama Kamo and Scotty Morrison.

Mike’s Minute has also caused legal troubles for NZME recently. 

Māori Party co-leader John Tamihere secured an on-air apology and a confidential court settlement from the company after he alleged Hosking had defamed him in a segment headlined ‘600,000 questions about this Whānau Ora payout’ in December 2018.

According to an NZME spokesman, there was no leadership directive to stop publishing Hosking’s content. The Herald’s decisions on it always came down to editorial discretion, he said.

That discretion does seem to have been exercised more judiciously at the Herald recently for Mike’s Minute.