British journalist urges American media to toughen up for the sake of democracy
Mehdi Hasan (Screenshot)

During former President Donald Trump's four years in the White House, progressive pundit Mehdi Hasan was not only critical of Trump, but also, of the American journalists he believes were too easy on him. Hasan, who now hosts a Sunday-night show on MSNBC, discussed coverage of Trump during an interview with Esquire's Jack Holmes and laid out some of the things he finds problematic about political journalism in the United States.

"The problem from the very beginning, to the American political media, was trying to put Donald Trump in a conventional box, force him into a model of political journalism for covering Washington, D.C. — for covering Republicans and Democrats — that he simply did not fit into," Hasan told Holmes. "Again and again, he made it clear he did not want to fit into it, could not fit into it."

Hasan continued, "So, you get, 'This is his reset, this is a new tone, this is the day he became president.' And that was all a reflection of political journalists, sometimes with the best of intentions, wanting to just revert to an era or a period that they were more familiar with. They were uncomfortable with being in uncharted waters. That ended up normalizing the abnormal."

Hasan went on to say that even in 2020 — four years after Trump was elected president — too many American journalists were still going easy on him.

"Whenever I would criticize the media," Hasan told Holmes, "People would say, 'Well, hold on, the New York Times has used the L-word — said 'lie' — CNN has put 'lie' on the chyron. Cable news and print press gets it.' And I would say, 'Those are positive developments, but they're not reflective of media culture as a whole. You would get rays of light in between some of the darker coverage."

Hasan, originally from the U.K., has been living in the U.S. for six years — and he has often been told that he is a much more aggressive interviewer than many U.S.-based journalists.

"When I first moved to the US in 2015, people used to compare my journalism at Al Jazeera — when I did a TV show there — and say, 'You're much tougher than the average American interviewer,'" Hasan told Holmes. "I went on Seth Meyers in 2018, and I made this point about how, in the U.K., we're much tougher on our politicians. We ask a bunch of blunt questions. We're less deferential than your average American TV interviewer."

Hasan went on to say that in future elections, U.S.-based journalists will need to be as aggressive as possible if they want to continue living in a democracy.

Hasan told Holmes, "The New York Times had that headline, 'Democracy Has Prevailed.' I don't buy that. I think we dodged a bullet with January 6 and with the Trump election claims, but there's no doubt in my mind that come 2024, we're probably going to do this again — and at some point, they will be successful. Democracy is still under threat from people other than Donald Trump. Journalists should not be neutral about democracy."