NEW YORK (AP) — An Instagram photo of ABC News' "Good Morning America" co-anchor Lara Spencer hugging presidential hopeful Donald Trump is drawing a mix of responses on social media and in real life.
In the photo posted Tuesday, Spencer has one arm around Trump's shoulder and the other across his midsection. Trump's hand is on her waist. They are both smiling. Spencer's message that initially accompanied the photo: "Can't beat having the REAL DonaldJTrump on," with a smiley face.
The photo, snapped Tuesday morning on the "GMA" set, triggered comments on Instagram that ranged from support for Spencer and Trump to attacks on her professionalism. After a number of critical comments were posted, Spencer clarified in the Instagram post that she was not seated in his lap, as it appeared to some observers, but "standing next to Donald Trump. Said a quick hello and welcomed him to the GMA studio for first time since he announced his candidacy."
An ABC News representative had no comment on the propriety of the photo. Trump was interviewed by "Good Morning America" anchor George Stephanopoulos on Tuesday; the ABC representative said Spencer, who appeared in a Donald Trump costume on Friday's show, did not appear on-air with the candidate on Tuesday.
Aly Colon, Knight Professor of Media Ethics at Washington and Lee University, said the photo and its display online "gives the impression that these people are close to each other in some way. How close? I don't know. But it puts her in a position where people might question whether as a journalist she is representing the public or Donald Trump."
"If they want to maintain credibility, it's important for journalists to keep a certain distance from people they cover," said Colon.
Trump, who has spent more than 30 years in the media spotlight, has an unusual relationship with the press that was on display when he released his latest book on Tuesday. During a press conference, Trump applauded one reporter for asking what he deemed her best-ever question, while another reporter volunteered a rave review of the book. Later, as he was signing copies for fans, Trump repeatedly pointed reporters' attention to fans he hoped they'd capture.
Trump also has, in the past, gone on the attack with journalists, including Fox News' Megyn Kelly, who he strongly criticized after the first Republican Debate, which she moderated.
Colon's advice for how a journalist maintains the public's confidence: "Adopt more of a hands-off policy."
AP reporter Jill Colvin in Washington contributed to this report.
EDITOR'S NOTE — Frazier Moore is a national television columnist for The Associated Press. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and at http://www.twitter.com/tvfrazier. Past stories are available at http://bigstory.ap.org/content/frazier-moore