A New Beat in DC? BuzzFeed to cover Trump-media relationship


It’s no secret that President Trump and the news media have a complicated relationship. In just his first week in office, President Trump singled out news outlets for praise or criticism, responded to cable news broadcasts via Twitter, and sent his press secretary to excoriate the White House press corps for the way they reported on the crowd size during the President’s inauguration.

All of these confrontations were covered by the national press, resulting in the unusual situation of reporters or news organizations becoming the focus of their own pieces.

President Trump’s relationship with the media has become such a constant source of news that, Politico reports, BuzzFeed has decided to hire veteran media reporter Steven Perlberg to cover it full-time. Until now, no outlet has dedicated a reporter to the Trump-media beat alone. In Buzzfeed, Perlberg, previously of the Wall Street Journal, will join a news organization that has shown a willingness to provoke the President, who has in turn responded by calling them “a failing pile of garbage.”

In his new role, Perlberg will have the opportunity to dig deeper into how the Trump team handles the media, and how the media handles President Trump. Katherine Miller, a top editor at BuzzFeed, said that the site hopes to break stories on how the Trump team attempts to secure positive coverage from the press, the rise of right-wing media organizations, and what compromises the press corps is willing to make with the administration.

The President’s approach to the media and his media consumption habits change things for communications professionals as well. Flacks and advocates on all sides now must consider how to book their clients on President Trump’s favorite cable TV shows while simultaneously avoiding his ire on Twitter. For the first time ever, it may be easier to get the President’s ear through cable news segments than by the beltway standard of leveraging relationships inside the administration. Especially as it seems his own staff sends him messages through the media.

Communications professionals with clients who oppose administration policies can also use the media’s fascination with Trump confrontations to their advantage. Call it the John Lewis effect. Representative Lewis garnered national press attention when he provoked President Trump into a Twitter attack, leading 67 Democrats to boycott the inauguration. A few weeks later, Obama-era Justice Department official Sally Yates became a galvanizing figure – on both sides – for her stand against the Trump administration’s immigration ban. For organizations opposed to his agenda, drawing the President’s fire could generate positive press and rally supporters going forward. For others who might want to stay out of the spotlight, an outraged tweet can send stock prices tumbling (see: Martin, Lockheed).

The good news is that at least now we’ll have more news coverage and analysis of the White House-media dynamic. And, odds are we’ll see Perlberg’s name in a future presidential tweet.

Written by Sam Blobaum, a Blue Engine fellow.