By Christian Mendoza, Emma Cochran, and Rebecca Cantafio
Michael Smerconish is no stranger to delivering his view of the news.
During his 30-year career, Mr. Smerconish has hosted talk shows that bear his name on MSNBC, CNN, and Sirius XM radio.
The “Smerconish Show” host took a break from his nationally syndicated programs to talk with Salmon editor Christian Mendoza and staff writers Emma Cochran and Rebecca Cantafio on Monday, Jan. 4.
The discussion (which can be viewed in its entirety above) featured the journalist’s experiences with President Trump as well as his views on social media and dangers of fake news.
Although President Trump never accepted an invitation to appear on Mr. Smerconish’s shows, Mr. Smerconish said that the 45th President has been “a pretty religious viewer” of his programs. Despite a negative view of many journalists, President Trump called Mr. Smerconish “pretty fair” in a 2017 Politico report.
“If you’d read his Twitter feed after I were just on the air, you would often see comments that he would make that would tie into the subject matter that I had just discussed,” Mr. Smerconish said.
Mr. Smerconish met with President Trump a few times during the 2016 election cycle and had a 15 minute “off-the-record” Oval Office meeting in 2019. “We spent as much time talking about sports as we did current events and politics,” Mr. Smerconish said.
The conversation also featured discussion about social media and its impact on news, which according to Mr. Smerconish, has both hurt and helped overall.
“On one hand, it’s a wonderful interactive means of communicating with people,” he said, “[but] the negativity of it, I fear, has escalated the partisan divide in our country and that’s not a good thing.”
Many debate whether social media companies such as Facebook and Twitter have a responsibility to fact check the information posted to their sites. According to Mr. Smerconish, fact checking is tricky because it would have to be done fairly and to everyone. He said it would “greatly diminish the amount of information available” that it makes him nervous “when you’re policing some but you’re not policing everybody.”
In an era when some struggle to see the differences between news and opinion, Mr. Smerconish said that news organizations have to do more to separate the two. He called the line between the two “blurred.”
He also said it is challenging for a journalist to be unbiased, though he stressed the importance of trying. Journalists must place themselves in a neutral position and it is possible to present the information “without tipping your hand as to how you may see the more controversial aspects of a story,” he said.
Mr. Smerconish also cautioned against listening too much to the opinion of celebrities, who have long been open about their political views. He said that celebrity opinions are taken too seriously by many. “We have much too much an inflated view of celebrities,” he said.
Another question led to a discussion of the use of anonymous sources in news stories and whether the practice is okay. The media sometimes publishes stories with information that is unattributed. According to Mr. Smerconish, the practice of anonymous sources should only be used when the information is absolutely verifiable and that there must be “other people who will confirm and corroborate what that anonymous source has said.”
With so many places to get information, who should we trust when it comes to the news? According to Mr. Smerconish, it is important that we get news from a variety of sources, which he labeled as having a “mixed diet.” He said that people should make sure that they see the news in both perspectives.
“[It’s] perfectly fine to go online and rely on sources from the left so long as you’re also reading sources from the right,” Mr. Smerconish said. “My fear is that too many among us are hunkered down in these silos that are all conservative or all liberal or progressive and that the two are never meeting. I think that does the country a disservice.”
As for the future of journalism, Mr. Smerconish thinks it’s a “noble career” to pursue. He said, “the best way to write is to start” and encouraged us to continue writing.
Over the course of his long career, Mr. Smerconish has interviewed many world leaders and newsmakers. But he said those interviews are not as fulfilling to him as those he does with people who may not be known on a world scale. “Although I’m known for front page news and front page guests, I just don’t think that is my best material,” he said.
Rather, Mr. Smerconish prefers interviewing people who are unknown but interesting. But Mr. Smerconish does have a preference for “Seinfeld” co-creator and “Curb Your Enthusiasm” star Larry David. He said he would prefer to interview Mr. David sometime in the future.