Watergate editor explains how Reagan taught Trump to manipulate media coverage
President Ronald Reagan (AFP Photo/Mike Sargent)

President Donald Trump generates tremendous media coverage, which is exactly what he's always wanted, but the Watergate editor says it doesn't have to be that way. In fact, things didn't used to be that way.


Barry Sussman, who guided Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein to a Pulitzer Prize in 1973 as the Washington Post's city editor, explained the media allows Trump and his surrogates to set the agenda with false and disingenuous arguments in an interview with The New Republic.

"They follow him wherever he goes," Sussman said. "He leads the press around by the nose. That was even true on the Russia investigation. How many weeks did we go, months, where there were front-page stories questioning whether Trump would even testify? Imbeciles like Giuliani were getting press attention as though they had something to say, when all they were doing was trying to stretch things out and humiliate the press. That’s my main difficulty, not only with the Russia investigation but with everything else."

The veteran newsman said that sort of wall-to-wall coverage of presidents is historically unusual.

"The press didn’t even cover the presidents every single day until Reagan," Sussman said. "You may remember this. It was Reagan’s sharp advisers who decided to make him the center of attention and pretty much get stories day by day, every day. Before then, there was not even daily coverage of presidents. I think that we might keep that in mind as Trump is covered."

Sussman explained how press coverage in the Trump era could be better, and focus on more important issues than his daily scandals and distractions.

"The way Trump is covered now is that he is covered first," he said. "If there’s any room for anything, or anybody else, or anything else, it will follow, if there’s room. I think that we have such a great list of real problems that need to be dealt with, that are newsworthy and important, starting of course with climate change, but the list is a very, very strong list. Even some Trump issues make the list, like immigration."

"My solution to this is that the press, especially the elite press that already has beats on all the important subjects, it should pay attention to what’s going on," Sussman added. "It should write about them as needed, and when there’s room left over, they give us Trump. Turn things around on their face."

Pulling back on Trump coverage would highlight the other important reporting that's already going on, he said.

"If there were less coverage, could Trump set the agenda to a lesser degree?" Sussman said. "If he were not allowed to set the agenda, the investigative coverage would stand out more, because there would be less of the foolish coverage, the unnecessary, foolish coverage."