Trump’s war on the media reach critical levels of overhype over the weekend, but what else is new?
On the same day that the president took to the stage and praised the First Amendment while calling out “dishonest media” outlets at CPAC, a handful of mainstream news reporters in the White House Press pool were barred from an off-camera media gaggle. The result? Widespread panic among the swamp/Acela Corridor’s chattering class.
Adding insult to the press’ injury, the president has announced that he will not be attending the White House Correspondents dinner this year. While the move breaks from the soft norm of the president’s attendance at the ceasefire gala, it fits into a longer-standing tradition of not sitting down to a white tie dinner to crack bad jokes with people who can’t stand you.
While the whole spat might make complete sense to parts of the country that voted Republican in November, the beltway’s breathless dungeon of Trump Derangement Syndrome is at it again to ensure us that this latest slate of actions is an all-out assault on the First Amendment.
Criticism does not amount to a crackdown.
As John Gizzi explains in greater detail at a story at Newsmax, the hype and frenzy is “much ado about nothing”. Spicer didn’t hold the on-screen press briefing with news organizations locked out, banging on the doors. Nobody was forcibly removed from White House grounds. Nobody’s story got shut down. This was an off-screen gaggle. Complaining about not being allowed to such an event is the equivalent of complaining that your outlet didn’t get an exclusive.
There’s a line to be drawn here around what freedom really is. The press operates freely without restraint or coercion from the government or the officers thereof. Trump can’t issue executive orders to limit them (nor should he take any pages from his predecessor’s book on restricting them.) Nor should Congress take to passing restrictive laws that would advance such an agenda. These are a given and they have faced no real or rhetorical challenge since Inauguration Day.
Obama is the only one among the two presidents who actually waged a documented war on the press. Who can forget when the chief magistrate of the “most transparent administration in history” spied on journalists and turned Holder’s Justice Department on them? A story at the New York Times makes the connection between the two, cautioning that 44 should be the one to thank if 45 goes after press freedom. But can we really compare spying and a DOJ probe to public criticism and not including some outlets in a press gaggle?
If anything, Trump’s communications team has actually increased media access to the Oval Office with the introduction of the briefing room Skype seats, which — according to CR’s Rob Eno — stand to break the Washington media’s stranglehold on national news.
All Trump has done that might even be considered a threat to press freedom was a single test balloon about “opening up” libel laws during the campaign. That test balloon was rightly and swiftly shot down, and hasn’t been re-inflated since. Sure, Trump did criticize the practice of using anonymous sources for pieces, but I must have missed the part where he said he planned to use governmental force to stop the practice.
The United States government and the officials thereof owes the media nothing past the protection and respect of their right to print and report freely; this includes President Trump. He doesn’t owe them access to off-camera briefings (or even on-camera briefings for that matter — one wonders how many press conferences Washington or Jefferson held in their day). He doesn’t have to bring them along to observe his steak dinner. He doesn’t have to go to their big annual party. And he doesn’t have to keep his mouth shut about them, as he rightfully pointed out Friday morning.
Nor is it the president’s duty to grant the practices of any industry undue credence or legitimacy; that remains incumbent upon the tradesmen of that fields. This is especially true when a large portion of that industry has a self-created legitimacy crisis that long predates his own administration. Was it Donald Trump that gave rise to talk radio and the new media industry? Or was it a longstanding mistrust in mainstream media bias? Clearly, the second.
Either way, it certainly isn’t elected official’s job to make the press’ job easier past the point of liberty.
Criticism does not amount to a crackdown. What the old media are dealing with now is little more than the kind of criticism that conservatives had to deal with under the Obama administration, when Obama blamed Fox News for the fact that Congress and the people wouldn’t buy his agenda wholesale.
But the White House, by doing so, has certainly created an inside-the-beltway optics problem with the move, while giving fodder to those looking for any and every excuse to cry “fascism” whenever the President does something they don’t like. However, controlling the White House’s messaging and conveying it to the people is the first duty of the White House Press Office. How they do so is rightfully up to them.
Nate Madden is a Staff Writer for Conservative Review, focusing on religious freedom, immigration, and the judiciary. He previously served as the Director of Policy Relations for the 21st Century Wilberforce Initiative. A Publius Fellow, John Jay Fellow, Citadel Parliamentary Fellow and National Journalism Center alumnus, Nate’s writing has previously appeared in several religious and news publications. Follow him @NateMaddenCR and on Facebook.