The School of Media and Public Affairs co-hosted a town hall Wednesday evening with the GW College Republicans and GW College Democrats, where students questioned a panel of experts about President Donald Trump’s relationship with the press and how the news media has contributed to the current political climate.
The event, moderated by SMPA Director Frank Sesno in the Jack Morton Auditorium, began with Sesno asking leaders of the College Republicans and College Democrats about their organizations’ feelings toward the media and whether or not they believe journalists have been overly critical of Trump.
Aly Belknap, executive vice president of the College Democrats, said the fragmented state of the news media today can give a platform to new voices, but often breeds more political division.
“I think politics has really responded to the new diversified media that we have,” Belknap said. “We’ve all sort of retreated into our own spheres of information and opinion sharing, which I think can be really great for exchanging our ideas, but it can also be very detrimental for polarization of different ideas and groups.”
Belknap said the “political agenda” of some news sources is leaking into mainstream media coverage, specifically at Fox News and CNN, but she said it is not enough for her to distrust the news media.
College Republicans Chairwoman Allison Coukos said there has been a barrage of negative attacks on Trump from the mainstream media, even when he does something seemingly beneficial for the country.
“I’ve heard from members within College Republicans, they feel that the resistance has penetrated the media and has become part of mainstream media,” she said.
The town hall’s panel featured journalists and political commentators from “Meet the Press,” “NBC Nightly News,” CNN, Politico, NPR and political figures including Howard Opinsky, former national press secretary for Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Rep. Brendan Boyle, D-Penn.
The panel discussed the diversity of news media sources, Twitter as a political tool, the politicization of the debate over climate change and the evolution of media from traditional to digital media platforms and social media.
Trump’s relationship with the media was also a focal point during the open discussion. Sesno highlighted a $5 bumper sticker for sale on the Trump campaign website that reads “Fight The Fake News, Make American Great Again.”
“The president of the United States, to me, should be a champion of the First Amendment, even when he or she or whoever occupies the office, is getting the crap beat out of them in the media, because that’s what goes with the territory,” Sesno said.
SMPA has hosted numerous events in the last year discussing the media’s role under the Trump administration. Former White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer was interviewed by Sesno in January, as part of a forum on the media’s relationship with President Donald Trump.
Sesno concluded the event by reminding the audience that every single person has the responsibility to be well-informed before they use that information to form their own opinions.
“Each citizen, has more responsibility themselves to be well-informed, to make smart decisions, to get the facts before they create an opinion at a time that we move at warp speed, with Facebook and social media pounding you with impressions and information second by second,” he said.