Be Careful Not To Stereotype Trump Supporters, Warns New York Times CEO

Mark Thompson, president and CEO of the New York Times.Reuters

The chief executive of the New York Times has warned against writing off supporters of Donald Trump. 

Commentators must not make the same mistake of stereotyping the people who will vote for him, as "Brexit" supporters were stereotyped in Britain before the EU referendum, he warns. 

Mark Thompson, former director general of the BBC and a committed Christian, said there was something "fascinating" about Trump, in particular his unpredictability.

Thompson is speaking in a MediaFocus podcast that was recorded before the latest debates over his comments about women. 

He says Trump has benefited from the age of social media and rolling news which has seen a shift away from "explanatory power", or the ability to discuss and explain public policy to the public either directly or through the media.

Instead there has been a move towards a need for impact, often accompanied by exaggeration.

In his new book, Enough Said: What's gone wrong with the language of politics? Thompson describes this as "authenticism", which is a kind of slightly unnatural focus on "authenticity" – on being authentic. And almost the sense of some people are more real than others.

The "screaming, ranting form of argument of the internet" is something that quite a lot of public figures are beginning to think is normal, he warns.

Thompson, who started out as a BBC trainee, was director general for eight years. While there, he reshaped the organisation to meet the challenges of the digital age, launching the iPlayer and streamlining management.

He joined the New York Times in 2012 as president and chief executive.

Since then the paper, which has almost always supported Democrat presidential candidates, has become the world's first news organisation to get a million digital-only subscribers.

Thompson says: "I think you've really got to be careful about stereotyping Trump supporters in the same way I think in the UK, some commentators were guilty of stereotyping Brexit supporters as angry white working class racists – I'm putting that very crudely.

"And stereotyping in this country is very similar. You cannot get to a plurality or above a plurality in the UK on the basis of such a stereotype, and nor can Trump get to some of the numbers he has achieved, about 40 per cent, on the basis of one narrow definition.

"And I think that both in the matter of Brexit and in the matter of Trump and his, if you like, surprising passage through the primaries and now to even if Hillary Clinton wins, and you know, as we speak the odds seem to favour her, though I would say, you know, be careful. Be careful."

Many people were sure that Remain was going to win the Brexit campaign, he says.

"So let's see what happens. I don't think you can explain it by one kind of group of people who won't change their minds. And as you know I've written a book, and one of the things the book is about, this is a book about political language, and one of the things the book is trying to get to the bottom of is what's going on and what gives politicians like Donald Trump the kind of power they've got right now."