Trump is back – but under a much harsher media glare

Coverage of campaign launch characterized by blunt truths 

IT ALL SEEMS so much the same. The preening self-regard and references to his singular abilities and strength, evoking his 2016 Republican National Convention speech declaring, “I alone can fix” what ails the country. The personal digs at his political adversaries. The reckless disregard for facts

One thing, however, already seems different about Donald Trump’s third run for the presidency, which he officially launched Tuesday night in a speech from his Florida compound: The media coverage. 

Trump long benefited from press coverage governed by traditional norms that generally steer clear of anything that smacks of direct criticism or characterization of candidates in clearly unflattering terms. Trump’s departure from established norms of political behavior, however, seems finally to have prompted a shift away from established norms in how he is covered. 

The press seems to have concluded that when the record is one of unprecedented assaults on democratic principles and institutions, characterizing it in dark terms is simply telling the truth, not slanting it. 

Donald Trump, who tried to overthrow the results of the 2020 presidential election and inspired a deadly riot at the Capitol in a desperate attempt to keep himself in power, announced he is running again for president in 2024,” reads the lead of the story on NPR’s website

“Donald Trump, the twice-impeached former president who refused to concede defeat and inspired a failed attempt to overturn the 2020 election culminating in a deadly attack on the US Capitol, officially declared on Tuesday night that he is running to retake the White House in 2024,” reads the Washington Post story.

The Globe captured the then-and-now contrast of what we knew of Trump seven years ago and what we know now. 

“When Donald Trump rode down the escalator at Trump Tower in 2015 to announce his first presidential campaign, he was a mystery as a politician, a former reality TV star who was viewed as a fringe candidate and seemingly more interested in building his brand than leading the nation.

“Now after four tumultuous years in office, three straight disappointing Republican elections, two impeachments, and one deadly insurrection, Trump is a known political entity — and one who seems to be rapidly losing popularity among Republicans just as he announced another White House run Tuesday night,” read the lead to the paper’s story today

The New York Times seemed, by comparison, to go a bit softer by avoiding the check-list of Trump deeds and characterizing his impact in broader terms. 

“Donald J. Trump, whose historically divisive presidency shook the pillars of the country’s democratic institutions, on Tuesday night declared his intention to seek the White House again in 2024, ignoring the appeals of Republicans who warn that his continued influence on the party is largely to blame for its weaker-than-expected showing in the midterm elections,” read the lead to its story

Dan Kennedy, a journalism professor at Northeastern University, said he was particularly struck by NPR’s blunt description. 

“For the most part, I think NPR has been the most reluctant, bordering on timid, to depart from the old way of doing things, and that is simply reporting what public figures are saying and doing,” he said. “So this was a really notable exception to that, and I thought it was a very good sign.” 

Even the Associated Press, long the model of rigorously objective coverage, broke with its usually very restrained style and sent out a dispatch last night that was among the more jarring. 

“Former President Donald Trump on Tuesday launched his third campaign for the White House just one week after a disappointing midterm showing for Republicans, forcing the party to again decide whether to embrace a candidate whose refusal to accept defeat in 2020 sparked an insurrection and pushed American democracy to the brink,” it read

Kennedy said news executives “have heard over and over the criticism of how they enabled Trump in 2015 and 2016.” 

Kennedy did offer one caution about the changing media landscape, noting that because of the internet’s complete disruption of their business model, the country’s leading newspapers are now “totally dependent” on revenue from readers via digital (and dwindling print) subscriptions rather than advertisers. Subscribers to the Times, Post – like the donors who sustain NPR – are overwhelmingly liberal, he said. 

Meet the Author

Michael Jonas

Executive Editor, CommonWealth

About Michael Jonas

Michael Jonas has worked in journalism in Massachusetts since the early 1980s. Before joining the CommonWealth staff in early 2001, he was a contributing writer for the magazine for two years. His cover story in CommonWealth's Fall 1999 issue on Boston youth outreach workers was selected for a PASS (Prevention for a Safer Society) Award from the National Council on Crime and Delinquency.

Michael got his start in journalism at the Dorchester Community News, a community newspaper serving Boston's largest neighborhood, where he covered a range of urban issues. Since the late 1980s, he has been a regular contributor to the Boston Globe. For 15 years he wrote a weekly column on local politics for the Boston Sunday Globe's City Weekly section.

Michael has also worked in broadcast journalism. In 1989, he was a co-producer for "The AIDS Quarterly," a national PBS series produced by WGBH-TV in Boston, and in the early 1990s, he worked as a producer for "Our Times," a weekly magazine program on WHDH-TV (Ch. 7) in Boston.

Michael lives in Dorchester with his wife and their two daughters.

About Michael Jonas

Michael Jonas has worked in journalism in Massachusetts since the early 1980s. Before joining the CommonWealth staff in early 2001, he was a contributing writer for the magazine for two years. His cover story in CommonWealth's Fall 1999 issue on Boston youth outreach workers was selected for a PASS (Prevention for a Safer Society) Award from the National Council on Crime and Delinquency.

Michael got his start in journalism at the Dorchester Community News, a community newspaper serving Boston's largest neighborhood, where he covered a range of urban issues. Since the late 1980s, he has been a regular contributor to the Boston Globe. For 15 years he wrote a weekly column on local politics for the Boston Sunday Globe's City Weekly section.

Michael has also worked in broadcast journalism. In 1989, he was a co-producer for "The AIDS Quarterly," a national PBS series produced by WGBH-TV in Boston, and in the early 1990s, he worked as a producer for "Our Times," a weekly magazine program on WHDH-TV (Ch. 7) in Boston.

Michael lives in Dorchester with his wife and their two daughters.

“So there is a danger in giving their paying customers too much of what they want,” Kennedy said. “I would caution against going overboard because of who’s paying the bills.” 

While there may be a risk of overcorrecting, Kennedy called the shift in how the press is covering Trump a welcome sign. “I’m certainly glad to see truth-telling in the media, and I hope we see more of it,” he said.