01.23.17 Kick out the White House press corps? Oh, please do!
The Orwellian playbook the new White House administration has been using now has a new phrase: “alternative facts.” That’s how spokesperson Kellyanne Conway characterized new press secretary Scott Spicer’s assertion of attendance at Friday’s inaugural of the new POTUS.
But she also had this gem to add, speaking to “Meet the Press” anchor Chuck Todd: “If we’re going to keep referring to our Press Secretary in those types of terms, we’re going to have to rethink our relationship here.”
Oh, please, Ms. Conway! Please do!
Then on Monday, the new administration continued down this path, with the POTUS telling Fox and Friends that there won’t be a larger room for the press and that some people will “not be able to get in.”
“The press went crazy, so I said, ‘Let’s not move it.’ But some people in the press will not be able to get in. We have so many people that want to go in, so we’ll have to just have to pick the people to go into the room. I’m sure other people will be thrilled about that.”
OK, let’s unpack that one: First of all — yeah. Fucking do it. Just go ahead and fucking do it. Prove just how scared you are of open inquiry and differing opinions, and do it. Pick your favorites from the dregs of the ink-stained wretches.
But second, here’s the crucial bit: The actual press needs to refuse to attend. En masse. The chosen simply decline to be chosen.
Finally, third: Any news agency that agrees to send a hand-picked minion approved by the POTUS should be roundly ignored by us, the audience. Any news agency that sends someone is, by definition, illegitimate. You report what you can dig up yourself, and refuse to accept the spoon — which will now be filled with complete pablum — from the baby.
See, one of the best things that could happen to our current moribund, corporate-owned press corps (and full disclosure, one of my outlets is NBC’s “Today Show”) would be absolute ostracism from the White House.
We’ve had our hands tied for decades, and the cozy relationship the WH press corps has with whoever is in office hasn’t really helped us. It’s a private room to which only certain members of the press are granted access, with limited time offered by the highest elected official in the land, and questions are answered entirely based on whether that elected official deigns to answer them. Follow-ups are difficult because every reporter wants his or her question answered, and doesn’t want to be seen as shirking by the higher-ups.
And if you don’t report the way they like, they can simply ban you from access.
So I say, ditch it entirely. Kick ’em out. Set free, journalists can do what they’re supposed to do, which is dig up the truth and hidden facts without fear or favor. Let’s flash back to President Nixon’s time in office. As The Atlantic noted in 2014, he was the first person to refer to journalists as “the media” rather than “the press,” which does in fact sound monolithic and threatening.
Jon Marshall noted in that article, “Once his comeback culminated in his being elected president, Nixon read a summary of each morning’s news and then directed his staff how to respond, noting in the margins which reporters he liked and disliked. When Stuart Loory of the Los Angeles Times wrote about how much Nixon’s vacation home cost taxpayers, the president angrily told his staff to ban Loory from the White House.”
(I also write for the Los Angeles Times.)
The fact is that administrations have been taking cues from Nixon ever since (and President Johnson was no sweetheart either with the press): Information has routinely been withheld for (cited) reasons of national security all the way up through President Obama. Yeah, he’s much-missed now but in 2014 dozens of news organizations signed on to a letter protesting his administration’s journalistic obstructions. Among the complaints: blackballing reporters, delaying interviews past deadlines, blocking experts from speaking with journalists.
The thing is, journalists shouldn’t be too cozy with their subjects. My journalism professor once told me, “If you want to write about the circus, you can’t sleep with the lions.” On the one hand, press access should be sacrosanct — in the best scenarios, it’s the only true filter citizens have for accessing detailed, complicated, challenging information from their government. But there’s a line between collaboration and collusion. A press seen as too cozy with those they’re writing about loses credibility. And heaven knows, the press needs more credibility these days.
So, Ms. Conway, I say again: Do it. Weaning journalists away from canned quotes and spoon-fed press conferences and back into the trenches where sources must be cultivated and facts dug up and gleaned from hard data is exactly what the job is supposed to be about. (That said, I’m a fine one to talk; I’m an entertainment journalist and that’s not my beat, generally speaking.) Kick us all out soon, and there’s a chance we might experience the journalistic renaissance that’s so sorely needed.
After all, there is no reason at all the POTUS’ taxes haven’t been unearthed yet. Get cracking. We need you.
‘Cause we all know how it ended up with Nixon, in the end.
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I actually really like this. It’s really frustrating that those that are reported upon generally assume that journalists are out to get them. This is not true. My cousin’s husband once bitched to me that he’d hold a press conference for his bosses (Boeing), then swore that the journos lied about what he said. This is patently untrue. What they did is report a story that he didn’t want them to. So while I’m sure there are some hacks who aren’t worried about reporting The Truth, most of the folks I know are.
Exactly. While I’m certain there are some bad actors, in general when people complain journalists are out to get them, what they mean is “they’re not telling the story I want them to tell or the story I have in my mind.” We’re all heroes in our own narrative, and we get angry when we realize not everyone paints us that way.