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Journalist Fellows' Papers

All the president’s lies: Media coverage of lies in the US and France

Reuters Institute Fellow's Paper

Heidi Taksdal Skjeseth, the US correspondent for Dagsavisen, a leading Norwegian daily, since 2010, has written a research paper on the apparent increase in politicians’ lies called ‘All the president’s lies: Media coverage of lies in the US and France’. Here’s how Heidi describes her research:

“The political lie has existed since the dawn of politics. Yet something changed in 2016 with the election of Donald Trump as president of the United States. Mr. Trump presented falsehood upon falsehood throughout his campaign. While US journalists tried to hold him accountable, the falsehoods, or lies, had few consequences. He won. Many expected Mr. Trump to change after the presidential inauguration. He didn't. According to a list published in the New York Times, Mr. Trump lied in public at least once every day in the first 40 days of his presidency.

In this paper I have looked at how US journalists cover Mr Trump´s lies and how the many falsehoods coming from the White House are changing the relationship between the political journalist and politicians, and therefore the very essence of political journalism. The relationship between political sources and the political journalist, though not always easy, has always required a degree of trust. This trust is now eroding, and according to my sources, it is changing the way political journalists work.

The many lies have also caused debate on how to cover them, when to call a lie a lie and how to frame headlines and social media share lines. I have found that newer outlets, like Huffpost and Buzzfeed, are much more inclined to call false statements lies, and are bolder in their coverage than more traditional outlets.

Populist politicians around the world have found inspiration in Mr. Trump’s success, and journalists in other countries are also struggling to find a constructive way to cover political lies and to hold their politicians accountable. I also interviewed journalists and fact checkers in France, where the 2017 presidential campaign was also tainted by lies. While the problem is not as grave as in the US, they also struggle to hold politicians accountable and to cover political falsehoods in a way that reaches and engages people, particularly those with low trust in the media.”

As with all Fellows’ research papers, any opinions expressed are those of the author and not of the Institute.