by Diana Gilday
Donald Trump since the start of his 2016 Presidental campaign has called the media, “the enemy of the people.” Purchase alumni Victor Couto shows how this happens in his new documentary, “Enemies of the People: Trump and the Political Press.”
Couto currently is a production manager for retroreport.org who championed the documentary. The mission of the outlet, according to their website, is to give the public a full picture of what is going on in the world, by putting everything into context.
Couto began producing this film, alongside director Susie Bainkarim, right after Trump was elected President.
“She (Bainkarim) had done the interviews, right after Trump was elected,” said Couto. “So it was fresh in the journalist’s mind about retelling their experiences on the trail because many of them had followed him around. But we wanted to turn it more into a retro report. And what I mean by that is, we did do additional interviews once we partnered with her to bring in other voices, media critics. It kind of gives us that historical perspective, because what retro report is all about is connecting the dots from the past to the present. How did we get here?”
Couto met with Purchase journalism students to talk about the process of his documentary, as well as to answer any questions about reporting on the election and just working in media in general.
Journalism student Jalen Guichardo asked, “In sort of a culture that's just so like central around profit and ratings and things like that, how do you incentivize covering with integrity and covering the truth?”
This question came in reference to the documentary, which showed that the press during the 2016 election, did not act with integrity, and instead realized the then-nominee, Trump was a ratings draw so they covered him constantly.
“By you know, giving people a platform to say something doesn't necessarily mean here, ‘I'm going to give you free rein to just say whatever you want,’” said Couto. “I think that's something else that we've learned as well, just by covering Donald Trump. I mean, a lot of times we're not carrying these rallies live. Now we're sort of picking parts unless it (the rally) was newsworthy. I think there needs to be some of that, as well, in terms of just vetting. Who are you talking to, and where is this information coming from? And can you sort of trust it? I mean, that's for just journalism. Overall, I think that's something that we always do. But just because one person says it doesn't always make it true.”
In the documentary, the major news networks, such as CNN and Fox News, would sacrifice integrity to have the camera’s ready for Trump at all times. That is one of the main lessons that the media people have learned not to do. Another thing they learned, according to Couto, is to not give into conspiracies theories as easily and to not over anticipate how big a story will be.
“They (journalists) want to avoid making a lot of the same mistakes that they made,” said Couto. “Jumping the gun, or maybe thinking that something was a bigger story than it was, you know, for example, that Access Hollywood tape. I think that journalists are going to be very careful about repeating anything like that, or even trying to make assumptions about what's going on.”
Besides answering questions about his work on the documentary and what journalists should learn from the coverage in 2016, Couto also offered advice to students wanting a career in the media.
“Just build yourself a reel,” said Couto. “Show that you can do different things and that you can cover different stories.”
Couto originally thought he wanted to be a broadcast journalist after always having an interest in the news. However, after shadowing a television reporter for a day, he realized that it wasn’t for him. Couto then fell in love with slow journalism, documentaries, after filming his senior project about Playland in Rye, New York.
“I was out there with my camera, sometimes every weekend, and I was capturing this story unfolding,” said Couto. “And then I was like, wow, this is kind of interesting to see this from a, just from a visual perspective. And so I really gravitated towards that medium. I love slow journalism, because it's the counter cycle to the fast news, the fast pace news, which is really great. I think people need that. I think we need to have more context behind what's going on to give people a better understanding.”