Tag Archives: Donald Trump

5 Political Communication Observations About That Trump-Putin Summit

Sarah Oates

Sarah Oates

By Sarah Oates
Philip Merrill College of Journalism
July 19, 2018


Editor’s note: Sarah Oates, professor and senior scholar at the University of Maryland Philip Merrill College of Journalism, has studied Russian media, elections and political communication for the past 25 years. After U.S. President Donald Trump’s summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki, Finland, Oates offered this analysis of the meeting.


Putin and Trump both lie, but Putin is better at it. This is why:

1. Words matter in international relations, a point Trump seems to fail to understand or just ignore. In the 21st century, power and influence come from more from negotiating skill than the battlefield. At this meeting, Trump demonstrated no skill in international agenda setting or narrative.

2. Putin sticks to a narrative. A narrative is the story you construct about something. In the case of international relations, leaders use “strategic narratives” such as “America is the land of democracy” or “Russian fortitude brought down the Nazis in World War II.” The current Russian strategic narrative is that this democratic country is under siege from the West and fails to get the proper respect due a world nuclear power. The reality is that Putin leads an authoritarian regime. Russia is in a proxy war with the United States in Syria. Russia has seized territory in Ukraine, a Western ally, and has been instrumental in an armed rebellion in Eastern Ukraine. By sticking to his narrative of Russia as a wronged democracy, Putin can effectively ignore these inconvenient facts. He lies consistently, which makes it more convincing.

3. Trump could have used the conclusive evidence about Russian meddling in the campaign to attack the Russians or at least put Putin on the defensive. He could have discussed Russian military operations in Syria or Ukraine. He even could have forced Putin to try to again deny that a Russian missile shot down Malaysian Airlines 17 in 2014 and killed all 298 aboard. Instead, Trump attacked the Democrats and the FBI, which is not useful in the international politics game. He should have used this meeting to strengthen America’s position, not least because the Russians should be on the defensive. It doesn’t seem that Trump has established an international strategic narrative for his presidency, not even one that is like “Make America Great” again. Without a script, he seems to just improvise and fall into agreeing with Putin.

4. Both leaders routinely attack the media in much the same way, but it would seem with a different goal in mind. Putin constantly attacks the notion of truth itself, while Trump more selectively denies particular facts. In Russia, the purpose is to completely disempower any kind of fact-based dialogue in Russia or about Russia. This works particularly well for Putin, as there are no longer free elections in Russia (they have elections, but they’re rigged). For Trump, this seems an odd policy. The media were instrumental in creating his persona and he needs some aspect of the media to continue to promote his “brand” in order to gain re-election (if that is what he seeks). Putin denies certain facts that don’t fit his strategic narrative. As it doesn’t seem that Trump HAS an international strategic narrative, it’s just confusing. He may want to discredit the democrats, the FBI, and even the U.S. legal system, but that does nothing to advance American power and influence. In fact, it does the opposite.

5. A free media is not part of the Russian political tradition. Media have worked in the service of the Kremlin almost since the Russian Revolution more than 100 years ago. But a free media is part of the U.S. tradition, so it’s puzzling that a U.S. president would try to play the Russian propaganda game with a free press. It’s like playing chess with a checkers set. For Putin, disinformation is about nation building. For Trump, disinformation seems to be all about Trump, which helped him become president but won’t do much for America.

The meeting underlined the power of a free press, particularly as Chris Wallace from the Fox News Network asked Putin questions that were in America’s strategic interest, such as whether the Russian government was behind the U.S. election interference and why there were so many political assassinations in Russia. This demonstrates how the media are critical to democracy.

For more information, contact:
Alexander A. Pyles
aapyles@umd.edu
301-405-1321

Professor Sarah Oates talks Russian Election on BBC Radio Scotland

Professor Sarah Oates

Professor Sarah Oates

COLLEGE PARK (3/23/18) — Recent Russian aggression could be viewed as an intentional show of strength ahead of President Vladimir Putin’s re-election, Professor Sarah Oates told BBC Radio Scotland.

“It’s very important for Vladimir Putin to storm into a new term of office with a very large turnout and with a very large vote for him,” said Oates, professor and senior scholar at the University of Maryland Philip Merrill College of Journalism. “If you kind of reorient your head around what Putin and the Kremlin needs right now, some of the rest of this starts to make sense.”

Putin easily won a third term as president this week after officials in the United Kingdom accused Russia last week of using a nerve agent to poison a former spy and his daughter in England. Meanwhile, officials here maintain that Russia meddled in the United States presidential election in 2016.

“If you’re a leader who really depends on the politics of fear, what are you going to do in the weeks leading up to your election?” Oates said on “Good Morning Scotland” late last week.

“Are you going to play nice and do hearts and flowers, or are you going to be as aggressive as you possibly can with your politics of disruption?”

She also explained that it’s not really correct to call what happens in Russia an election.

“The Russian elections are not an election in any sense,” Oates said. “It’s best to think of them as a coronation. … That being said, Putin would probably win in a free election. And so a lot of people say ‘why don’t you just have a free election?’

“But they’re not going to take that risk.”

Oates is a scholar in the field of political communication and democratization. A major theme in her work is the way in which the traditional media and the internet can support or subvert democracy in places as diverse as Russia, the United States and the United Kingdom.

She’s written books, chapters and papers on topics including how the internet can challenge dictatorship, how election coverage varies in different countries and how national media systems cover terrorism in distinctive ways.

For more information, contact:
Alexander A. Pyles
aapyles@umd.edu
301-405-1321

Alumnus, Lecturer David Lightman on Hosting President Donald Trump at Gridiron Dinner

David Lightman ('71)

David Lightman (’71)

COLLEGE PARK (3/6/18) — As president of one of the nation’s most prestigious journalism organizations, University of Maryland alumnus David Lightman (’71) spent months preparing for one of Washington’s signature events: the Gridiron Club and Foundation’s annual dinner.

Lightman, an adjunct lecturer at the Philip Merrill College of Journalism and former managing editor of The Diamondback, is serving a one-year term as the 133-year-old club’s president.

On Saturday, he introduced the event’s guest of honor, President Donald Trump, and sat with him through dinner. Lightman began the evening with a speech that playfully poked fun at the president and pushed back against Trump’s criticism of the press.

“You alternate between humor and some serious talk about our business,” said Lightman, congressional editor for McClatchy Newspapers in Washington. He added: “You want to set the tone. We singe, but we don’t burn. We take ourselves seriously but, at this event, not too seriously.”

In a recent interview with Merrill College staff, Lightman spoke about Saturday’s dinner, Trump and how the University of Maryland helped him get to where he is.

Merrill College: After President Trump declined to attend the dinner last year, was there doubt he’d accept the Gridiron’s invitation this year?

Lightman: There’s always doubt, that’s not unique to Trump. You start asking late in the fall. In my case, I went to Hope Hicks, the communications director, and Sarah Sanders, the press secretary. We met in early December. It was a very good meeting. And I laid out our case why he should come, and there’s nothing unusual about that. And they said “fine, we’ll take it to the president and see.”

And then I stayed in touch, largely with Hope, over the next few weeks and months and she was very professional, very cordial. And it was Presidents’ Day, February 19, she sent me a note saying “OK, you can make the announcement.”

Were you surprised?

No, no. … Again, you go back to other presidents, [Barack] Obama only came three out of eight times. I don’t remember how many times [George W.] Bush came. There are so many variables here, you know, what is his schedule, what are his other obligations? You just don’t know. I was pleased.

Describe the week leading up to the dinner. 

Last week, you get all kinds of Secret Service briefings and White House briefings. And then, on the evening of the Gridiron — me and my family get to go — the Secret Service escorts us to a certain area, where we wait. The vice president came in first, shook hands. We talked informally. He then went to the podium.

Then the president came, the first lady, and we took pictures. And then after the pictures, the Marine Band, which plays at the Gridiron, plays “Hail to the Chief.” The announcer says “Ladies and gentlemen, the president of the United States, escorted by Mr. and Mrs. David Lightman. He goes first, my wife is second, I go third. We walk in, take our seats and the program begins.

Then what?

First, we have something called “Music in the Air.” The lights go out, four singers at the front of the room sing a capella, very briefly. The minute they’re done, I get up at the podium and give what’s called “The Speech in the Dark” — this is a Gridiron tradition. The lights are out. As a speaker, it makes it a lot easier because you can’t see anybody. Or, as somebody advised me, you don’t have to worry about looking up at the audience or making eye contact, you just read it. Although habit is, I still make eye contact.

Tell me about the speech.

You sort of set the tone for the evening. … You alternate between humor and some serious talk about our business. So, in other words, I would say to the president, “I didn’t think the president would come because he doesn’t like eating in hotels he doesn’t own.”

But then I’ll talk about, “Mr. President, we don’t do fake news.” And at that point, I segued into the fate of Austin Tice, who was working for McClatchy and other organizations in Syria when he was abducted five-and-a-half years ago. And I said: “We don’t do fake news, Mr. President. Austin Tice wasn’t doing fake news when he was kidnapped in Syria.” …

We, McClatchy, had invited his parents, who are right up there, and I introduce them. And later on, in fact, in the program they came over the podium and I introduced them personally. …

The Gridiron, we said, has three rules. Now remember, this a 133-year-old club. One of them is … ladies are always present. And I said, “but thank you for coming anyway, Mr. Vice President.”

Again, you want to set the tone. We singe, but we don’t burn. We take ourselves seriously but, at this event, not too seriously.

Could you see the president’s reactions?

There was one joke … I said to the audience “you can’t see him, but he really liked that joke.”

Was that the one about Trump calling reporters and pretending to be his P.R. guy?

I think that was it, yeah. … That’s a true story. In 1993 I was the Hartford Courant’s Washington bureau chief and … the House committee was doing a hearing on Native American casinos. He was furious because he felt they were undercutting his Atlantic City business. And he was out in the hall waiting and complaining that “these are Indians that don’t look like Indians to me.” And I wrote it. And the next day, I do get a call from his lawyer.

Saturday night [at the Gridiron dinner], I recalled the incident and I said “At least I think it was his lawyer. The guy who called me told me what a great guy Donald Trump is, ‘the best.'”

And I looked at Trump and said: “Actually, it sounded a lot like you.” And he liked that.

Then President Trump spoke?

Much later. I give my speech, the Marine Band comes on, the Marine singer sings the national anthem. Then, the Marine Band plans the service songs and veterans stand up according to their service. We do an opening skit, we do eight or nine Democratic songs, [New Orleans] Mayor Mitch Landrieu speaks for the Democrats. Then we do eight or nine Republican songs. Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas spoke for the Republicans. Then I do a toast to the president, and he was very pleased with that.

Then, he gets up and speaks. He closes the night. He has the last word. We advise him, “We’d like you to speak for up to 10 minutes.” He spoke, I think, for 30 — that’s fine. Whatever he wants. And then we sing “Auld Lang Syne,” and that’s it.

Was Trump’s speech what you expected?

I didn’t know what to expect, I really didn’t. I’ve seen him speak at the campaign trail, I’ve seen him speak at the White House. This is a very unusual setting. Because again, you need to be both lighthearted but also somewhat serious at times. It’s a very tricky thing.

I’ve written thousands of stories, and writing this speech — and granted I had the help of a speechwriter, who did quite a bit — still was very difficult in trying to set the right tone. So I’m sure he went through the same thing.

Did Trump seem to enjoy himself?

I sat next to him all night. He was a very good dinner guest. We spoke, we had nice conversations about various topics, which we promised to keep private.

People came up to him, he was very good with people. As the night went on, they started asking for autographs. He did enjoy himself, I know that for a fact because I’ve been in touch with Sarah Sanders and Hope Hicks, and he tweeted that, actually, yesterday. Yeah, he liked it.

Given the relationship Trump has with the press, was this year any different than past Gridiron dinners?

Every president has a contentious relationship with the press.

I think if you were to go back to 2003 and talk to reporters about how they got along with the Bush administration as the Iraq War was unfolding [it was contentious and] the press was always complaining about access through the Obama administration.

I don’t mean to sugarcoat what’s going on now, but the relationship is always contentious.

Is there anything else you’d like to say?

I know it’s corny, but really I started here at The Diamondback. I walked in and asked to write. And I wrote sports and then they moved me over to the A section, I eventually became managing editor.

Through the Diamondback I was able to get internships; first in Hagerstown, then later in Southern California. You know, I always wanted to be a reporter. But I didn’t know any reporters, I had no connections, my parents aren’t journalists, nobody in my neighborhood was a journalist.

But coming to Maryland and working through The Diamondback and working through some of the professors in the journalism school … they were a wonderful help for me.

I know it’s corny, but none of this would have happened without the support and the mentoring from the University of Maryland and The Diamondback. … I can’t say enough about this school and how it’s helped me.

For more information, contact:
Alexander A. Pyles
aapyles@umd.edu
301-405-1321

Eaton Chair Mark Feldstein Talks Harvey Weinstein, Laura Ingraham

Eaton Chair Mark Feldstein

Mark Feldstein.

The A-list celebrities accusing Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein of sexual harassment, misconduct or assault are giving the allegations unusual attention and fueling a national conversation, Philip Merrill College of Journalism Professor Mark Feldstein told USA Today this week.

“The prominence of the accusers … lends enormous credence and power to the allegations,” said Feldstein, Richard Eaton Chair of Broadcast Journalism at the college. It “gives a lot more oxygen to the story.”

Feldstein says similar stories may continue to emerge as long as the public remains engaged.

Also in The Guardian

Laura Ingraham’s move to Fox News highlights the alliance between conservative media and President Donald Trump, Feldstein told The Guardian.

“There’s actually a long history of journalistic commentators climbing in and out of bed with politicians,” he said. “What’s interesting, is how open this is.”

Ingraham, a conservative media star, debuted on the cable news channel in prime time this week.

Change and Challenge: 100 Days of Journalism and Trump Symposium

First 100 Days of Journalism and Trump Symposium @merrillcollege May 4.

By April Newton
Ph.D. Student

COLLEGE PARK, Md. (April 28) – The Philip Merrill College of Journalism is holding a scholarship and practice symposium titled, “Change and Challenge: 100 Days of Journalism During the Trump Administration,” on May 3, in Knight Hall. The symposium will feature University of Maryland researchers from across campus and reporters who are covering the White House and politics. The keynote speaker will be Margaret Talev, Bloomberg News reporter, vice president of the White House Correspondents Association, president of the Washington Press Club Foundation and Merrill College of Journalism alumna.

The Change and Challenge symposium will allow reporters, researchers, and journalism educators to share experiences and seek directions for better understanding how President Trump’s election took many by surprise, what to do about fake news, and much more.

The May 3rd Symposium begins at 4 p.m. in Knight Hall’s Eaton Theater to learn more about journalists’ experiences and what researchers are investigating. There will be a reception in the Knight Hall atrium after the panel and Ms. Talev’s speech, beginning at approximately 5:30pm.

For questions, please email April Newton, co-president of the Merrill Graduate Student Association.