President Donald Trump ramped up his war on the media Friday, as his press secretary barred selected reporters from a question-and-answer session in the White House.
The press is right to be outraged. The public should be, too.
Reporters who cover the White House – a public building – are the eyes and ears of the public, and ask questions on issues that Americans care about. Sure, much important reporting on the new presidency is happening in communities across the country. But access to Trump’s official spokespeople is important. That access cannot be based on whether the Republican president believes the coverage is positive.
Many presidents have had a prickly relationship with the press, but Trump has taken it to a dangerous level. He labels as “fake” news stories he perceives as negative, and has taken to calling the media the “enemy of the American people,” something he did again Friday at the Conservative Political Action Conference.
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So what happened later Friday at the White House was only a matter of time.
Journalists from several major news organizations – including the Los Angeles Times, the New York Times and CNN – were excluded from a press briefing. Reporters from the Associated Press and Time magazine did the right thing and boycotted in solidarity. McClatchy Newspapers took part, but later issued a statement that it opposes any effort to ban news organizations and wouldn’t have participated had it known. The White House Correspondents’ Association also lodged an official protest.
White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer denied that the New York Times and CNN were barred because the White House is unhappy with their reporting. But he added, “We’re going to aggressively push back. We’re not just going to sit back and let … false narratives, false stories, inaccurate facts, get out there.”
If we’ve learned anything about Trump from the campaign and now his first month as president, it’s that he can’t handle inconvenient truths.
In his usual braggadocio, he had the gall to say Friday: “I love the First Amendment; nobody loves it better than me. Nobody.” He has a curious way of showing it.
Rather, Friday’s episode goes to show, again, that the president is a bully. When he doesn’t get his way, or he wants to rile up his base, he lashes out at convenient targets.
Big media organizations can take it. But what about transgender school kids, who had some federal protections revoked earlier this week by this administration? Who will speak out for them? The answer is, partly, the press – whether Trump likes it or not.