Corporate Media’s Soft Spot for Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner
In June, the celebrity magazine Us Weekly (6/7/17) ran a cover story on Ivanka Trump not-so-subtly titled, “Why I Disagree With My Dad.” Relying on carefully chosen anonymous “sources” and “Ivanka insiders,” the story cast the First Daughter as a key player inside the White House who has “battled” her more conservative father over “everything from LGBT rights to the North American Free Trade Agreement,” and who was “disappointed” by his decision to pull out of the Paris climate accords just days earlier. It was standard celebrity tabloid fare, which is to say it was a public relations coup for Ivanka Trump and her husband, real-estate developer Jared Kushner, who were given a sympathetic platform to polish their personal brands.
But most notable about the Us Weekly story was how little it differed from the supposedly serious coverage of Trump and Kushner by news organizations like the New York Times, CNN and Politico. Almost as soon as Donald Trump won the election last November, corporate media began to concoct a collective narrative that the couple would exert a strong moderating influence on the new president, regardless of all Trump’s reactionary, xenophobic and hateful rhetoric during the 2016 campaign.
This phenomenon arose yet again last week during the coverage of Trump’s decision to end the Obama administration’s DACA immigration rule. In the days leading up to the announcement, the New York Times (9/3/17) took care to point out that Ivanka and Jared supported extending the DACA protections. But as often seems to be the case, their policy disagreements with Trump weren’t public or even on the record, but instead landed unbidden in the press with little to no explanation of how they got there. (For all its flaws, Us Weekly at least bothered to offer some kind of attribution.)
Once Trump’s attorney general, Jeff Sessions, officially announced the DACA revocation on Tuesday, the Times (9/5/17) again took a detour from its breaking news coverage to dutifully register the dissent of the First Daughter and her husband:
Casting Kushner and Ms. Trump as “formidable foes” to any policy choice that contrasts with the president’s preference is, by now, absurdly wrong. After ten long months, there has been almost no evidence that Ivanka and Jared can muster any moderating policy influence on Trump. One of the rare claimed victories involved Ivanka getting a paid family leave plan inserted into her father’s federal budget proposal this summer. Her initial rollout was ridiculed as absurdly insufficient, however, and her follow-up plan was likewise criticized as “amateurish.” What’s more, there is still no guarantee that her proposal will even make it into the final budget passed by Congress this fall.
Ivanka has also made a public push for eliminating the gender pay gap. But her messaging shows no signs of having been received inside her own father’s White House. A July 2017 AEI report studying median salaries in the current administration found the gender pay gap was more than three times higher than under President Obama last year.
Then at the end of August, the Trump administration announced it was scrapping an Obama-era rule that would require companies to report wage data—in addition to gender and race information—to the federal government, in an effort to identify gender wage biases. Equal-pay champion Ivanka took the time to make a public statement about this policy move, which she supported. Her explanation for this about face was transparently flimsy, and she offered no alternative ideas for solving this intractable injustice, which costs US women $840 billion a year, according to one estimate.
So she’s made almost no tangible progress on family leave or equal pay, but she’s helped push her father to be more accepting of LGBT rights. Or, at least, that’s what the press wants you to believe. Just weeks after the Inauguration, Politico (2/3/17) hailed Jared and Ivanka as “help[ing] lead the charge” to sink a drastic rollback of Obama-era LGBT protections.
But this bold claim, too, was mostly a PR-driven mirage that shrivels under closer scrutiny. Less than three weeks after that story, Trump publicly rolled back Obama administration guidelines for transgender students’ use of public restrooms. And when the president called for a ban on transgender military service members at the end of July—a few weeks after Ivanka had publicly tweeted her support for LGBT rights—Politico (7/30/17) reported that the First Daughter and her husband were “blindsided” by the move, without ever bothering to mention how its narrative about the couple’s earlier, supposed policy triumph on LGBT rights had unraveled.
The most inexplicable example of the press’s overindulgence in the narrative of Ivanka’s vast influence came in early June—not from Us Weekly, but from CNN (6/3/17). The cable network crafted a long, fawning story about the First Daughter’s Jewish faith, complete with Hallmark-card photos of her and her kids from her Instagram feed. To top it off, CNN shamelessly bestowed upon Ivanka the moniker of “America’s most powerful Jewish woman”—summarily disappearing two Supreme Court justices, the chair of the Federal Reserve and the ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, to name but a few actual women wielding actual power.
Even more jarring, CNN’s June tongue bath came just days after Ivanka’s arguably biggest policy defeat. During her father’s presidential transition, she’d held high-profile meetings with Leonardo diCaprio and Al Gore, which garnered dozens of favorable news stories, and she’d said climate change was an issue that would be a big focus of her official White House job as assistant to the president. Nonetheless, Ivanka still failed to persuade her father to keep the United States in the Paris climate accords. She was notably absent from the Rose Garden party Trump held—with brass band, no less—to announce the pullout.
Despite all these failures, the press still consistently covers Ivanka and Jared as if they were key policy advisers. And after each major policy decision by the White House that hasn’t gone their way, the corporate press makes sure to report on the couple’s discreet “disappointment” or “disagreement,” just as the Times did this week. But all this does is provide a convenient dose of plausible deniability to Ivanka’s brand, without requiring her or her husband Jared to register a direct, public statement of dissent.
For example, a New York Times article (4/26/17) on Ivanka and her father’s positions about the US accepting Syrian refugees did most of the work of dissent for her. The Times cast Ivanka as having “a pointed public departure from one of her father’s bedrock populist positions.” Her comments, in fact, were much less clear and more circumspect:
In fact, the First Daughter’s own spokesperson demurred when asked if her remarks were meant to pressure her father—so not quite a “pointed public departure” after all.