To understand one of the key shortcomings of the press, consider the esteem that reporters routinely lavish on Ivanka Trump, the favored presidential daughter who has somehow fashioned herself as the good cop to her father’s bad cop.
The narrative of Ivanka as a moderating influence on her father’s crueler impulses suffered another setback last Thursday, when the president announced, over her objections, that United States would pull out of the Paris accord, a major climate change agreement. For that, CNN awarded her its “Worst Week in Washington.”
It didn’t take long for the press to resume fawning over her. Us Weekly splashed Ivanka on its newest cover this week, praising her for “balancing her personal ideals with love and loyalty for her father.”
The full article is not out yet, but from the snippet released so far, the cover story will likely retread the same myths about Ivanka as a competent advocate. “Ivanka is the best woman for the job,” Us Weekly gushes, describing her as a “skilled negotiator” who knows “just how to work [Trump] — stating her case calmly and directly.”
In tone, the tabloid magazine’s fawning profile doesn’t sound all that different from sections of Politico’s Ivanka story last week, which was laden with blind quotes defending her failure to sway her father on climate change. According to one explanation, it was “unrealistic and unfair” to expect that Ivanka would “single-handedly change her father’s position away from long-standing Republican orthodoxy.”
Another excuse was that Ivanka hadn’t really been trying. According to “people close to the first daughter and her husband” (read: their friends), Ivanka’s attention was on women's issues, while her husband’s attention was on the Middle East — and that “climate change was never their focus.” Of course, that contradicts an earlier Politico story — headlined “Ivanka Trump, climate czar?” — which claimed that Ivanka wanted to make climate change “one of her signature issues.”
Meanwhile, the soft-focus stories keep coming. A widely ridiculed CNN story last week described Ivanka as “America's most powerful Jewish woman” for no other reason, apparently, than the fact that she is Jewish and the daughter of the president. This, in spite of the Trump administration’s documented weirdness about the Holocaust, including a statement on Holocaust Remembrance Day that never mentioned Jewish people.
On child care and parental leave, the issues that Ivanka seems to be most passionate about, her sole victory has been to slip a modest family leave program into Trump’s latest budget proposal. Even here, Ivanka has gotten more than her fair share of the credit in the press. A CNN story Tuesday described a new think tank report on paid family leave as a “big boost for Ivanka's paid parental leave plan” — as if scholars on the left and right hadn’t been pushing this idea for years, long before Ivanka put her stamp on it.
Ivanka’s political efforts might best be described as an extension of her brand, which was always about breezy, cosmopolitan affluence. To the extent that certain political views were necessary to complete that image, Ivanka seems to have done the minimum amount of advocacy necessary in her role as a member of Trump’s inner circle.
It’s worth noting that Ivanka has an advice book out now, full of vague or otherwise impractical tips that are best understood as an exercise in burnishing her image as a successful, professional woman. The book can be seen as a metaphor for her political efforts: Ineffective at best, but a savvy branding campaign.
Ivanka’s efforts at self-promotion have neatly lined up with the media’s own demand for characters. The relentlessly optimistic coverage of Ivanka speaks to an instinct to frame the world in moral terms: Much of political coverage is storytelling, and too often, people are slotted either as heroes or villains, forces for good or for evil.
It helps that Ivanka “possesses a type of beauty that often passes as moral uprightness,” as the New Yorker’s Jia Tolentino puts it — the kind of beauty that sells magazine covers, that invites people to give her endless free passes. The press was always going to find someone in the White House to cheer, and why not Ivanka? At least she looks the part of the protagonist.