The Press Pool, The Media and Steak

So by now you’ve probably heard about infamous incident where President-Elect Trump ditched the press and went to some fancy steak house for dinner. A reporter (from Bloomberg?) was there having dinner, tweeted a photo a Trump and thus sent the press pool on a recon mission to the restaurant. I’ve heard people expressing all the uninformed opinions on this, so let’s get the facts straight and you can decide for yourself.

First we need to start with: What is the press pool?

The press pool is a set of reporters that follow the president (and president-elect) basically everywhere. They are there for a few reasons, one is accountability. Such as when Trump met with the Japanese representative this week, the pool should’ve been able to take a photo (I believe its customary at the break). The American people deserve to know who the president is with and what he is doing. Another reason is in case of history/an emergency. Lots of reporters have been talking about how important the pool was 9/11. Getting reporters to W. Bush as 9/11 was already happening would have been near impossible, but since they were already there, they could start reporting immediately. Same goes if there was an assassination attempt. Same goes if the president is overseas and something happens. Having the press pool in place assures that the reporters have access to the important people and the facts immediately and can report them accurately and quickly to the American people.

So maybe that makes sense to you, but now you’re wondering: “How does that have anything to do with a steak dinner with your family?”

Good question! Trump’s team had told the press that they were done for the day, so everyone could go home. This comes with the assumption that they were going to stay in, order pizza and watch Netflix. (Just kidding, but it is sort of fun to try to imagine Trump’s Netflix list). So you can imagine that it was a surprise when the members of the pool saw a photo of Trump out with his entourage. They then had to go back out and hang out at the restaurant. However, let’s be clear where the press is during their time in the pool. Not at the table with the president. Not at the table next to the president. Not yelling questions at the president. Most reporters note that they are usually in a Secret Service van or a fast food joint somewhere in the vicinity for hours on end. Obviously that’s a very different image than the one that some people are trying to spin about the press not giving Trump his space and being whiny little siblings following him around.

Let’s also be clear that Trump is not the first person to ditch the pool. Obama did it, especially in the beginning. (For a good explanation of this, Robert Gibbs was on the podcast Keepin’ it 1600 explaining the contentious relationship between the White House and the press). With an administration as inexperienced as Trump’s there might even be some room for understanding that mistakes happen. But, we also need to put this in context. This is a man who spent the better part of the last 15 months calling out reporters at rallies, threatening to (and actually) pulling press credentials, refusing to give press conferences (now that he is president-elect) and making some of his campaign slogan about how the press is terrible. You can understand why this breach in press pool protocol may concern them more than it normally would

The free press is a corner stone of democracy and we need it now more than ever. This is not to say that you should believe everything you read (no matter the source). But when you sit around and just talk about how the entire media sucks, you are doing exactly what Trump wants you to do. He wants to feed you news through his own Twitter feed or, god forbid, Breitbart. We need to call out bad reporting, challenge media narratives and be good consumers, but we also need to understand the function that the press serves. Accountability, transparency and independent reporting are all things that separate us from corrupt pseudo-democracies.

Do me a favor and support a media outlet of your choice. My household supports the New York Times and Slate. Subscribing to podcasts (while free) also helps to support different media organizations. Some of my favorites are: Vox, Ringer, Fox (yes, you read that right), KCRW, Politico, 538 and NPR. Get out there, get informed and let’s get to work!


Originally published at teeteringintheunknown.tumblr.com.

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