President Donald Trump has made no attempt to hide his animosity for the press. He has called reporters “disgusting and corrupt.” He has referred to them as members of “the opposition party,” and last week he went so far as to call the media “the enemy of the people.”
But on Friday he took his self-proclaimed war to a new and foreboding level. Just hours after the president voiced his displeasure about a CNN report — one that, if true, would give his administration another black eye in its first month in power — Trump’s media handlers prevented CNN along with the New York Times, Los Angeles Times and four other media outlets from taking part in a press briefing with Press Secretary Sean Spicer.
Marty Baron, editor of the Washington Post, spoke for many of us in the news business when he called the move not just unprecedented but “appalling.”
The punitive action was taken shortly after the president criticized a story that a White House official had asked the FBI to refute a New York Times article concerning alleged contacts between associates in Trump’s campaign and Russian intelligence officials in the year before the election. Using executive authority to influence an ongoing federal investigation is a serious charge. But Trump simply dismissed the report as “fake news” as he has done before with stories not of his liking. This time, however, the president vowed to take action. “The fake news doesn’t tell the story,” he said at a Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington. “It doesn’t represent the people, it doesn’t and never will represent the people, and we’re going to do something about.”
That something was to close the door on those members of the press he disfavors.
We’re comforted by the fact that a number of reporters refused to go along with this charade. Reporters from the Associated Press and Time magazine chose not to attend when it became clear that their peers were not going to be allowed inside. The Washington Post also did not send a reporter. But perhaps more troubling than those who were excluded was the list of those who were allowed to attend. They included such White House-friendly outlets as Breitbart News, the Washington Times and OANN, a conservative TV network.
In some ways, this comes as no surprise. It was only a matter of time. In June, Trump banned the Washington Post from covering his presidential campaign. He had also banned the Huffington Post, the Daily Beast, Politico and BuzzFeed until just two months before Election Day.
Such retaliation also is in keeping with the bellicose remarks of Trump’s chief strategist Stephen K. Bannon who told attendees at CPAC that the “corporatist, globalist media” dislike Trump because of his “economic nationalist agenda.” “If you think they’re going to give you your country back without a fight, you are sadly mistaken,” he said. “Every day, it is going to be a fight.”
If Bannon is inferring that the press will not stand down from its mission to tell the truth in defiance of a presidential administration that puts a premium on spin, invective and faux facts, he is correct.
As David Axelrod, a former senior advisor to President Barack Obama and director of the University of Chicago’s Institute of Politics, said on CNN Friday, if the price of admission to White House briefings is now writing things that pleases the president “then that’s a price that’s too high to pay.”
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