By limiting press access, Trump aims to fuel his narrative as an anti-establishment candidate. Don’t let him.
The White House barred the New York Times and several other news outlets access to the White House press briefing.
To be sure, as Jack Shafer notes (in Politico — also barred), this can be a good thing. Journalists who don’t have access have nothing to lose. Frequently, the loss of access provides an incentive against asking tough questions. Similarly, no amazing revelations have ever come from a WH press briefing. These are deliberately curated events often designed for obfuscating issues and tailored WH messaging. In the hands of someone as media savvy as President Trump, who has routinely been able to use the press as a vehicle for his own needs rather than a check or a filter, it can be even more problematic.
That said, it’s also problematic. When looking at the silver lining, let’s not pretend that these things are mutually exclusive. There can be some unintended benefits for the media but there’s also a reason the WH has restricted access to predominantly right-leaning outlets. Many of these have historically been considered dubious or downright propaganda.
Breitbart, the self-described “platform of the alt-right” was invited. For the uninitiated, the alt-right is unambiguously characterized by white supremacy, xenophobia, and other nationalistic/authoritarian agendas (they also called Gabby Giffords a “human shield”.) It is also the former home of Chief White House Strategist Steve Bannon, leaving little doubt as to who most has the ear of the President. Anyone hoping that President Trump would recalibrate in lieu of the Office and Chief of Staff Reince Preibus should table those right now.
Our takeaways should be this:
- The White House has established a preference for the Breitbart wing of the Republican party;
- The Breitbart wing of the Republican party is deeply associated with the alt-right, and all ensuing policy proposals should be viewed through this lens;
- President Trump, who is unabashed and upfront about his feud with the press, has and will continue to retaliate against unflattering reporting about him. This isn’t wholly unusual in the sense that no president wants unflattering coverage. What is unusual is that (a) he views just about anything critical as undue, unfair and unjust, therefore suffocating any real ability to report on him without retaliation, and; (b) he has no qualms undermining any check on his power, whether it is a formal check or a soft one bolstered by norms, such as the free press.
- Finally, and most importantly, his aim is to antagonize the press and people like me, so I encourage us all to stay vigilant but direct that vigilance in tougher scrutiny and, in the case of the press, tougher investigative reporting. Responding directly or in-kind plays to the narrative Trump is trying to establish. He needs this feud in order to characterize himself as a continuous anti-establishment President who isn’t afraid to buck norms. He needs this as a distraction for the actual policy he’s implementing, which is very likely to have meaningful impacts on peoples’ lives, including his voters. If this impact is bad, which I suspect it will be (time will tell), this should occupy the forefront of everyone’s mind, not the extent to which President Trump gave an unpopular media the finger.