This time every year, BillMoyers.com asks reporters, editors and bloggers which key story they feel the mainstream media failed to cover adequately over the last 12 months. See what they had to say.
Donald Trump’s Conflicts of Interest
The most overlooked story this year continues to be Trump’s conflicts of interest and the lack of legal mechanisms to protect the executive branch of the federal government from corruption. In 2016, the press — with the exception of Kurt Eichenwald at Newsweek — ignored the vast web of global business interests and questionable connections that Trump and his company had and how they might conflict with American foreign policy interests. We completely failed to note that Trump was constitutionally ineligible to serve if he did not fully divest from his business, as he would be in violation of the Constitution’s emoluments clause. Since the election, outlets such as The New York Times, The Washington Post, Reuters and The New Yorker have covered various conflicts of interest for Trump, his family members and his unpaid advisers such as Carl Icahn and Jared Kushner.
But TV, the most popular medium from which Americans get their news, remains relentlessly focused on the sexier topics of the day. That’s often just what Trump tweeted. Sometimes, as when he’s tweeting provocations to North Korea, that’s an important news story. Other times, as when we’re being distracted by the president’s insults to the appearance of a talk show host, it’s not. In any case, the complicated connections between the personal financial interests of Trump, his White House staffers, family and associates and the policies being promulgated at the White House remains under-illuminated. As Public Citizen recently noted, but few journalists picked up on, even standard Republican deregulation of labor and the environment raises new ethical questions when Trump’s own business stands to profit from it.
Moreover, we have discovered, too late, that many of the safeguards rely upon public officials’ voluntary compliance. Trump violated norms, but no laws, by not releasing his tax returns. His staffers and cabinet appointees may have broken laws by promoting Trump brands and campaigning on behalf of elected officials, but no one in the Trump administration seems interested in enforcing those laws. The press should be not only examining these problems, but their potential solutions.
— Ben Adler, New York-based journalist
Everything That Wasn’t a Trump Tweet
We surely didn’t do a good job on Trump’s efforts to stack the judicial branch with unqualified bloggers, who by experience and temperament had no business even being before the judiciary committee. We episodically covered the opioid epidemic, the ways big think tanks have infiltrated government, the treatment of veterans… I could go on and on.In my view, the most under-reported story of the year was everything. I mean, quite literally, everything that wasn’t a Trump tweet. We didn’t do a good enough job covering DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals), refugees after the first travel ban, the oral arguments of the third travel ban, the creeping encroachments on reproductive freedoms in the states and systematic vote suppression.
But here’s the thing: Scolding one another for missing the real story for the “distractions” is its own form of blaming and shaming. Attacks in the media are destabilizing enough without constant criticisms that we are all missing the real story. Everything is the real story, up to and including presidential tweets, which like it or not are official acts. My gift to myself and to you as readers is the fact that there is no monolithic “mainstream media” that is ignoring the important issues by design. It is simply true that the Bannon Chaos Machine works best when absolutely every story is the 25th most important story of the day, and everyone is wasting energy scolding others for their lack of focus. We need not play into this.
We can operate from a “yes, and” lens, acknowledging that the media misses a lot of big stories precisely because it’s covering a lot of other big stories. I could wish that we were less obsessed with individual journalists and their brands. But boy, do we owe a debt of thanks to the “yes, and” journalists who uncovered Roy Moore’s predation and the conflicts of interest in the Trump family. This year I say yes, and let’s cover all of it better and deeper. And let’s thank journalists for the work they do, and use our own voices to amplify the stories that cannot break through. I am not going down the shame-framing road this year. It’s all important to somebody. I am grateful it’s getting done at all.
— Dahlia Lithwick, writer and podcast host, Slate