Imagine traveling all over the country and Berlin, working 19-hour days and giving nine talks in just two days.
For Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and author David Cay Johnston, this was his reality from early August to the end of September. Johnston made a pit stop at the College on Tuesday, Sept. 27, in room 212 of the Education Building to talk about his book “The Making of Donald Trump.”
Johnston said his book, which details the life of the President-elect, has received more coverage overseas than in America. Johnston partly attributes this to the shrinking job prospects for journalists in America, as there are about 60 percent less journalism jobs in America today than in 2000. For the American journalists that did cover his book, none of them had read his book prior to interviewing him.
“When I sat down [for an interview during] the four days in Berlin, there was only one journalist who had not read my book—he was a TV personality—and he was so quick on the uptake that the roughly five minutes that I gave him before we went on the air, he asked terrific questions,” Johnston said. “I’ve had lots of questions from American journalists who clearly have no clue to what I’m writing about except most assume it’s negative to Trump.”
Despite people’s assumptions, Johnston calls his book “a critical biography of Trump.”
“There are 44 pages of source notes [in the book] because everything in it comes from public records,” he said. “This isn’t unnamed sources said, ‘This and that.’”
From his lecture, Johnston hoped the audience understood the importance of going beyond he said/she said journalism.
“I wanted journalism students to understand that he said journalism… is a waste,” Johnston said. “I mean you have to have it, but it’s commodity work. Anybody can do that, and if that’s your idea of journalism, you’re not going to go very far or go anywhere. You need to understand how the world works, and you need to focus on what government and other institutions do, not what they say. That means you need to learn how government works.”
As for the results of the election, Johnston was surprised that Trump won based on his staff’s actions.
“A few days before the election, the Trump people began signaling to journalists that they do not expect to win… Staff members came to [journalists on Election Day] to make nice because if Trump lost, of course, they want to have a career afterward,” Johnston said. “At that point, I did say in a couple of interviews he’s not going to win because his own people were signaling he didn’t expect to win.”
Johnston attributes Trump’s win to the Democrats’ low voter turnout, as even less voted for Hillary Clinton than for President Barack Obama during his second term.
“I consistently said up until about a week before the election that he’s not likely to win, but polls don’t matter, votes do and it’s all about the turnout,” Johnston said.
Johnston is critical of how American journalism covers politics, saying it focuses too much on the politicians’ words more so than their actions.
“American journalism does not have the intellectual rigor to it that a lot of journalism does overseas,” Johnston said. “American journalism is far too much—especially now with cable television—about controversies rather than issues. It’s about what politicians say rather than what they do. I’m in the business of what they do.”
Johnston advises aspiring journalists to become experts on their subject of choice, learning everything they can on the topic.
“Learn deeply how things work because there are two kinds of reporters: those who accurately quote what other people said and those who also understand how the world works,” Johnston said. “Don’t be a generalist—belong. Find areas that interest you and strive to become the greatest journalist expert in the world on whatever… those subjects are.”
-Story by Chelsea LoCascio