Journalism professor Jay Rosen took to the digital airwaves a few days ago to say that, in his opinion, journalists should “stop interviewing” Donald Trump’s campaign manager-turned-Counselor Kellyanne Conway because what she says is “routinely” and “easily contradicted by Donald Trump.” Speaking on the Recode Media podcast with Peter Kafka, Rosen said, “if the end result of an interview is more confusion about what the Trump world thinks, then that rationale [of interviewing Conway] evaporates.”
Though he says that the interviews have “no journalistic value,” he suggests that if media companies still want to have Conway on their show, they should “be real” with the audience and say she is there for “entertainment value.”
Conway was on Meet the Press Sunday, and she spoke about two media storms from this weekend. The first was Trump’s visit to the CIA, in which he sputtered nonsense, talked about his “war” with the media, and blamed that same media for inventing a rift between his camp and the intelligence community. This, despite the fact that he has routinely and publicly criticized the CIA and its intelligence-gathering efforts (particularly its recent statements that suggested that Russia may have been involved in efforts to help get Trump elected). Just last week, Mr. Trump wrote on Twitter, “Intelligence agencies should never have allowed this fake news to ‘leak’ into the public. One last shot at me. Are we living in Nazi Germany?”
Conway also defended Trump's insistence on arguing about the inaugural crowd size, suggesting that Saturday's second ludicrous event — a press conference by the new White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer — offered “alternative facts.” The facts of course, which were clear to everyone with eyes, was that the crowd for Trump's inauguration was smaller than recent inaugurations. Mr. Spicer lied several times during the press conference, which he opened with by saying, “This was the largest audience to ever witness an inauguration, period — both in person and around the globe,” before lashing out at the media for “shameful and wrong” coverage of the crowd size. He lied about the number of people who had used public transportation on Inauguration Day. He even lied about the television ratings.
None of the lying should be a surprise, especially coming from Conway, who, as Trump’s campaign manager, routinely went on talk shows and tried to take the sting out of bad or ridiculous things Trump had said by liberally “translating” his words for audiences, i.e, making up new meanings for them. Saturday Night Live has found some pretty good comedic fodder in Conway, but of course, this is the actual White House speaking now, so it’s unclear how funny the joke really is. What Conway and Spicer are offering are not “alternative facts” but alternative lies, where there are several “official” versions of reality offered, and none of them is even partly true.
What’s clear in these early days, however, is that Trump and his emissaries continue to operate like they’re still television stars, and so Rosen’s piece of advice to journalists is a good one: At this point, transcribing or giving airtime to Conway and Spicer's daily retossing of Trump’s word salads is just free PR. And really, let’s be clear: Most of the people jumping to get Conway on TV at every opportunity aren’t really journalists anyway. They’re talking heads.