Trump Puts Members of the Press in the Penalty Box
Trump’s ongoing war with members of the national press took a new turn this weekend past, when reporters from CNN, The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, and Politico were not invited to attend an off-camera briefing with the White House Press Secretary. These actions were immediately criticized as a major breach of protocol, and an untoward assault upon particular news organizations. At least that was the narrative from the national media.
Certainly, the optics of the move lend credence to this take. However, there are two sides to every story. In this particular instance, it all depends on your viewpoint. The President has made no bones about his disgust with certain media outlets and their reporting methodology. The fact that the two biggest targets of his displeasure, CNN and NYT, were among those not invited to the conference was surely no accident.
Trump has called CNN “very fake news,” and clamored against the dishonest reporting and misleading headlines of many NYT stories. There is no doubt that this latest slight is the President’s version of sending these outlets to the White House penalty box, for their many journalistic infractions. Many political insiders view this move as unwise. Fellow members of the media have called it dangerous. It might be even seen as petulant. All such lines of thought miss the point though.
With these actions Trump has once again asserted that he is in charge. The press is not. It is a privilege for members of the media to be allowed into any briefing. It is not a right of passage. Presidents self-select who they will and will not allow into meetings all the time. Trump even highlighted that he would do something like this in January with just these kinds of meetings, since he had expanded the pool of news organization who had access to include more non-traditional news outlets.
The fact that he singled out CNN and NYT shouldn’t surprise anyone, but it doesn’t necessarily signal some great departure from the behavior of others who’ve sat in the Oval Office. President Obama disallowed the press at times. It happens. He even discriminated against conservative media outlets in similar circumstances.
The inception of presidential press conferences, according to Woodrow Wilson, was designed to give the president an opportunity of giving the American people “a fairly accurate report of what the president was trying to do.” Each president has made changes to where and when briefings are held, and the type of press sessions they engage in to accommodate their needs, not those of the press.
Several news agencies, but CNN and the NYT in particular, have lost almost all objectivity in their dissemination of news that is decidedly against the administration. They aren’t even trying to give an accurate report of what the president is doing. It’s one thing to have a difference of opinion, or to even have a liberal bias; it’s something else entirely to actively spread disinformation and outright falsehoods. Why should any president allow this to go unchecked? After all, he was elected, not them. It is his show, they are invited guests.
Reporters act as surrogates for the public. The briefings are a chance for the president to get his message out to the public through the media, not to have it purposefully twisted by those who have their own agenda. As long as certain members of the national news want to engage in efforts to use their platforms to assault Trump, they should not be surprised to find themselves on the outside looking in for many briefings to come.
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