Americas - Issue 96 - Magazine | Monocle

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View from the campaign trail

Sharks in the press pool?

by Sasha Issenberg

In mid-July, just before the Republican and Democratic conventions, the two journalists who head the White House Correspondents Association wrote an essay for the opinion page of USA Today about “the treatment of the press in the 2016 presidential campaign”. The authors were typically cautious reporters – one wrote for Reuters, the other for the Wall Street Journal – but their article carried the type of alarmism that American readers were more conditioned to see in features about Erdogan’s Turkey or Castro’s Cuba. The headline: “Trump, Clinton both threaten free press”.

The nominees were alleged to have committed wildly disparate crimes against journalism. Clinton’s affronts were the more familiar for a circumspect politician who has never been fully at ease before a camera. By the time Clinton formally accepted her nomination in late July she had gone 236 days without a press conference – and then, in Iowa, she had answered just seven questions. The lack of press conferences, wrote Jeff Mason and Carol E Lee, “deprives the American people of hearing from their potential commander in chief in a format that is critical to ensuring he or she is accountable for policy positions and official acts”.

Trump, on the other hand, perpetually pulled journalists into his daily chaos. One of the few routine set pieces in his freewheeling rallies has been to turn the crowd against his press corps – “The most dishonest people that I have ever met,” he claims – and happily personalises his insults when given the opportunity. He picked through the class of journalists who most politicians usually flatter while hunting votes and instead held them up for ridicule. Chuck Todd, who as host of NBC’s Meet the Press presides over the country’s most venerable political talkshow, earned the epithet “Sleepy Eyes” after criticising Trump on-air.

Other journalists who crossed Trump found themselves blacklisted. At various points the Washington Post, Politico, Buzzfeed and Huffington Post were all systematically denied credentials to cover Trump’s rallies. “The public’s right to know is infringed if certain reporters are banned from a candidate’s events because the candidate doesn’t like a story they have written or broadcast, as Donald Trump has done,” Mason and Lee wrote.

The odd equivalence of the Mason-Lee op-ed reflects a crisis within the American media about what exactly we expect from our politicians. Journalism advocates have chafed against a secretive White House that tries to bypass news organisations by going instead to softer lifestyle outlets and creating its own content channels on social media. Even as he says all the right things about a free press, Barack Obama’s administration has sought to jail reporters who received national security leaks. One of them, The New York Times’ James Risen, called it “the greatest enemy of press freedom in a generation”. Hillary Clinton offers much of the same, although likely with greater paranoia towards the media.

Yet even as he is publicly antagonistic towards the media, Trump has remained continuously available to them for questioning. He held regular conferences for his press corps and granted interviews even to non-prestige publications. Journalists who cover the race know what those who covered real estate or television learned long ago: that a phone call to Trump Tower for comment on a story is often returned within minutes by the candidate himself. Even as he mocked Todd during his speeches, Trump continued to appear on Meet the Press. His desire for publicity, it appeared, overcame any desire to hold a grudge.

A Trump presidency may pose dangers but the threat isn’t to journalism. For years, as candidates became shut off by their handlers, reporters pined for the type of access Trump offers. Now they find their feelings hurt when he uses them as a foil. Journalists who yearn for politicians to embrace the notion of an adversarial press should accept politicians who treat them as a worthy public adversary.

Gear change

Portland, Oregon — CYCLING

Portland fancies itself as a cycling city but it came rather late to the cycle-share party. Its new system only launched in July, well behind US pioneers such as New York, Washington and even Tulsa. Still, the 1,000 bright-orange bikes and docking stations across the central city aim to make up for lost time.

“This is the largest smart-bike system in the US,” says John Brady, spokesman for the city’s transport bureau, about the on-board locking and tracking systems pioneered by the scheme. “And it addresses a big problem of older systems, allowing you to lock the bike nearly anywhere if you find that a station is full.”

The new Biketown system is funded in part by a $10m (€9m), 10-year sponsorship from Nike. The terms of the arrangement allow the sportswear brand, based in the Portland suburb of Beaverton, to create its own designs for 400 of the cycles, the first 100 of which will pay homage to Nike shoes. In its first week of service the system logged more than 13,000 riders, each travelling an average of 3km.

Lighting up the dark


If it’s good enough for Amsterdam, why not Cali? The Colombian city has recently installed a night mayor – Alejandro Vásquez Zawadsky – and it’s the first such position in Latin America.

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