It is as if the president were campaigning to declare the election results in November illegitimate already.
The destruction of Beirut, which brought instant horror to the world via cellphone images, competed for space in the American media with another event. No, it was not the record number of coronavirus deaths, an integral and regular part of the news in the U.S.
“Masterful! Courageous!” exclaimed journalists and television anchors while clips of an interview with President Donald Trump were repeated in a continuous loop. That interview with Australian journalist Jonathan Swan was recorded at the White House during the last week of July and aired on Sunday, Aug. 2.
The reaction of Swan’s colleagues to the 38 minutes of lies and disregard for the tragedy of the pandemic reveals much more about the state of journalism than about Trump himself, whose ability to surprise was left behind when he took office in 2017.
Jonathan Swan, 35, arrived in Washington in 2014 on a fellowship to work in Congress. In Canberra, Australia, where he was a reporter, he was known for exclusives such as the discovery of a video on YouTube that showed an Australian politician throwing kangaroo feces in his backyard.
Swan spent a year hearing “no” from newsrooms until landing a job at The Hill, a news site which specializes in coverage of Congress and, among other vile things, is infamous for spreading falsehoods that spilled into “Ukrainegate.”
The reporter was one of the first hired by the news website Axios, launched in 2017 by two ex-journalists from Politico and with similar editorial DNA. It envisions political coverage not as a pillar of democracy, but as a mixture of court intrigue and sports broadcasting.
Swan, a tireless collector of exclusives, was widely attacked by colleagues in November 2018, when Axios premiered a weekly program on the HBO network.
He managed to extract from Trump, exclusively, the announcement that the president wanted to cancel the right to citizenship granted to every person born on American soil.
With unabashed joy, the journalist used Trump’s statement to promote Axios’ first TV special. He appears smiling when Trump congratulates the network’s exclusive.
An American president does not have the power to end the right to citizenship, granted by more than 30 other countries and enshrined in the U.S. Constitution since the 19th century. But his intention to violate the Constitution became a teaser in the promotional clip.
The absurdities that Trump spewed in the new interview made journalists jealous, because Swan, a suave practitioner of access journalism (which can best be explained by the phrase “talk to me and I’ll go easy on you”), interrupted the president several times with facts, something that is not seen often in the press conference rallies at the White House.
Although the interview was embarrassing, it was not the unprecedented moment that Swan sold to the public.
What is unprecedented is the 3 1/2-year assault on the democratic system, and that cannot be separated from the catastrophic negligence of the pandemic that has killed 157,000 in the U.S. so far.
The timidity of the volatile American media facilitated the election of Donald Trump. At the moment, it is as if Trump were campaigning not against Joe Biden, but rather campaigning to steadily undermine the purity of the electoral process and declare the results illegitimate in November.
Despite the enthusiasm for investigative journalism that the president has awoken, there seems to be none of the tools or editorial criteria needed to face the most serious moment in America since World War II.
Lucia Guimaraes is a journalist and has lived in New York since 1985. She was a correspondent at TV Globo, TV Cultura, and GNT, as well as a columnist at the newspapers, O Estado de S. Paulo and O Globo.