An example of disruption of the news cycle is Trump’s recent call for there to be no moderator at the upcoming TV debates with Clinton, which captured the evening news bulletins. This demand came as a response to criticism of presenter Matt Lauer for not correcting Trump’s claim in a TV husting that he always opposed the Iraq war.
Eagan said a presenter in this kind of fast-moving situation should have all the facts memorised and be on point to challenge erroneous claims. “Not everyone has the time to read the New York Times in depth, but they might watch a debate” – and they are likely to believe statements which are made and not challenged.
Rooney pointed out that previously Megyn Kelly had had the courage to challenge Trump. In an interview, Kelly asked Trump about derogatory comments he had made about women calling them “fat pigs and slobs”. He responded that it was “only Rosie O’Donnell.” Kelly stopped him, saying “For the record it was well beyond Rosie O’Donnell” and gave examples. But, Rooney recalled, after this exchange Kelly was vilified by Trump supporters.
Both women commented on the fact that Roger Ailes, the Fox News chairman who recently resigned in the wake of a sexual harassment case has been hired to advise Trump in the run up to the candidates upcoming TV debates.
News anchor Gretchen Carlson taped Ailes’ remarks on her phone over the course of a year and has reportedly settled out of court. Ailes may have received a $40 million dollar pay off, but he is no longer at the helm of one of America’s most powerful news organisations, Eagan reflected.
Rooney said that if Carlson had not had those tapes she would not have been so successful and noted that since she began her case, 25 other women have come forward. “Why didn’t those women feel able to speak before?” It must have been widely known what was happening but women felt unable to challenge it.
Both Rooney and Eagan spoke about a culture in television news where the bulk of reporters and presenters are now female and are expected to dress, look, and behave in certain ways while men who still dominate as bosses and senior presenters are held to very different standards.
Rooney said that journalism courses in college are increasingly female-dominated and that young men are no longer coming into the profession in such numbers, but: “you need a balance”.
Both Rooney and Eagan said they had experienced sexism; from harassment to patronising and derogatory behaviour during their media careers.
Eagan credited Anita Hill with doing a lot to change women’s expectations of what they should have to put up with, in her landmark case against Thomas Clarence in 1991, which Eagan covered. She recalled seeing Hill sitting alone being interrogated by a roomful of men, asking embarrassing questions.
But despite the fact that some progress has been made, Clinton still faces a lot of sexism, over how she is expected to behave.
“I don’t like it when she shouts,” said Eagan. “I have thought about this and it’s sexist but I don’t like it.”
Some of the popular support for Trump could also be from men, who feel emasculated by the struggle for employment, their inability to look after their families and don’t want to have a woman “telling them what to do”. The US is behind some other countries such as Germany and the UK in having a woman leader.
Egan voiced sympathy with the blue collar voters whose economic difficulties are feeding into support for Trump, people on low wages struggling to make ends meet who feel they have nothing to lose. “There are people who work for Walmart who qualify for food stamps.” Politicians need to get more in touch with the concerns of the ordinary Joe and Jane. She saw parallels with Brexit. “But we saw after that vote, there was no plan.”
It is not unusual to have two candidates who are vehemently opposed, but the tone of the debate is unprecedented, according to Rooney who was director of Fox’s political coverage during the 1996 Presidential campaign. “The degree of vitriol, the descent into just name-calling, that hasn’t happened before. It has mostly been Trump but some of it has come from Hillary’’s side”. She cited Clinton’s “basket of deplorables’ comment. “Did she work on that? Was it scripted?”
In response to a question about whether the media has covered the substantive issues of the campaign, she said. “Everyone knows where they stand on the substantive issues. You have a sense of it. You know where Trump stands on immigration and where Clinton stands on immigration.”
It’s a horse race, someone remarked. “People love a horse race,” she replied.