BBC North America editor Jon Sopel has said he thinks it is wrong that some journalists covering Donald Trump have “tipped into thinking they are the opposition” to the US president.
Trump has variously described media organisations, both domestic and international, as “fake news” and “dishonest” in his tweets, speeches and press conferences since taking office in January.
Trump said of the BBC “here’s another beauty” when taking questions from Sopel following his decision to impose a travel ban on six Muslim-majority nations that was blocked by US courts.
In an interview with Huffpost UK, Sopel said: “We are not the opposition. We are journalists holding power to account, talking truth to power, however you want to phrase it.
“I think some of the American networks have tipped into thinking they are the opposition to Donald Trump and I think that’s wrong.
“We should be polite and if Trump wants to shout at us and call us liars, that’s fine. I’m not going to take offence at that.”
But he said that when the president’s claims contradict the facts, such as those made about attendance figures at his inauguration ceremony, “we must point out: that’s not right”.
He said: “It’s too easy for us to report politics as ‘on the one hand, and on the other’. I think there is a time when that is cowardice.
“It’s like we don’t want to see what’s before our very eyes and I think, if we are cowards about it and weak, that doesn’t serve democracy.”
Whatever the president’s claims, however, Sopel said he felt a duty to report them. “Words matter,” he told Huffpost. “When you’re in Government you’re firing with live ammunition.”
Asked how he could report on Trump without “amplifying and helping” him, Sopel said: “It’s not our job to think of it in those terms because that’s the path to becoming the opposition or a cheerleader.”
Sopel said one side effect of the media furore around Trump is that he rarely gets to visit and report on other parts of America in his role.
He said: “The BBC don’t want me to leave Washington because you need to be where the president is… because God knows what might happen next.”
Sopel said of covering Trump: “It’s exhausting. It’s 24/7, it’s non-stop… Every day there’s a new sacking, a new controversy.”