Covering Trump Amid Conflicts of Interest

By Urvashi Verma
Medill News Service

Conflicts of interest and lack of transparency in the Trump administration are challenging journalists to persist in finding and reporting the facts in a climate of hostility and polarization.

“This presents a unique scenario. The lack of transparency regarding Trump’s businesses has made it difficult to determine who is benefiting from what,” said Lawrence Ingrassia, managing editor of the Los Angeles Times.

Ingrassia spoke at a lunch session titled “When a Businessman Becomes President: Covering Donald Trump,” at the Society of American Business Editors and Writers spring conference.

Marilyn Geewax, senior business news editor at National Public Radio, said the lack of transparency is “a real problem” and journalists must emphasize that ethics and trust matter in a democratic society.

“Build a wall of facts, and sooner or later that wall will stand,” Geewax urged.

Panelists Marilyn Geewax, Timothy L. O’Brien and Lawrence Ingrassia speaking about covering Donald Trump at the Society of American Business Editors and Writers spring 2017 conference.


Moderator Timothy O’Brien, executive editor of Bloomberg Gadfly, ticked off a list of Trump’s conflicts of interest through his businesses. But he said he didn’t expect Congress or others to take action because Title 18 Section 208 of the U.S. Code exempts the president and vice president from the conflict of interest law.

“He should be covered on the facts of the matter and his track record and then measuring what he says he’s going to do, to what he does,” O’Brien said.  “I think that is the best standard to judge him.”

Geewax said Trump may be running afoul of the Emoluments Clause, which prohibits U.S. officials from receiving payments from foreign governments without permission from Congress. Since he became president, several foreign governments have hosted events at the Trump Hotel in Washington, D.C.

It isn’t clear, though, whether that would be interpreted as receipt of payment.

Ingrassia urged business journalists to dig into financial and other documents.

“Business journalist should be deeply engaged in covering what the Trump administration is doing. We have the skill-set,” Ingrassia said.

Geewax said even minor conflicts, such as Trump getting press coverage while he plays golf at one of his own resorts, are troublesome because they undermine confidence in a corruption-free economy.

“It is very important that we convey the negative impact that conflicts of interest and lack of transparency have on capitalism,” Geewax said.

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