Since very early in his own career, distinguished journalist Jonathan Karl has had unique and frequent access to current American president Donald Trump. In Front Row at the Trump Show (Dutton) Karl paints what feels like a balanced portrait of this Commander-in-Chief, yet it still leaves us fearing for the future. “This book is about what it is like to be in the front row at the Trump show,” Karl writes, “to be taunted by the president and courted by him, to be targeted by his enforcers and then watch him target them.”
Front Row at the Trump Show feels like an objective view of Trump as president, though we don’t leave the book reassured that this is a president that has anything but his own well-being and self interest in mind.
In the White House, Donald Trump engages the press as much as he ever did. But a reporter in the Trump era faces a president who seems to have no appreciation for or understanding of the First Amendment and the role of a free press in American democracy. Donald Trump muses about changing libel laws, presumably so he can sue reporters who are covering him.
He declares us disgusting. Dishonest. Traitors. Enemies of the people.
When faced with such an onslaught from the most powerful man in the country, it is testing to fight back. And, asa reporter, sometimes you need to fight back, If the president declares real stories fake the record must be corrected. If a president attempts to block reporters from covering the work of his administration, we need to fight back.If a president attempts to use the tools of law enforcement to target reporters for doing their job … reporters and news organizations needs to fight back.
But a free press is not the opposition party. Our role is to inform the public, seek the truth, ask tough questions, and attempt to hold those in power accountable by shining a spotlight on what they are doing.
You come away from Karl’s book with the feeling that nothing we see of Donald Trump is real or natural. That he hides behind a not-too-cleverly-constructed facade that only barely covers his avarice and self-interest. While Twitter currently resonates with calls for Trump’s resignation — and worse — due to his dangerously clumsy handling of the Coronavirus pandemic and its health, social and financial fallout, plus all of the other gaffs and missteps over the time of his constantly struggling administration, the next few weeks might show how this story ends. Steeply into lockdowns and isolation, one thing we’re finding is that this pandemic takes a harsh toll on everything that is not truth. The show that is Trump has not indicated that it does well under those circumstances. ◊