We find what happened at the White House Friday an alarming threat to American democracy, and we believe it should worry you as much as it worries us.
President Donald Trump has lashed out against national news media for months, calling them dishonest and their news fake. The trajectory of his insults reached a new height this past week when he referred to the media as “the enemy of the American people.”
There’s no benefit in getting mad at someone who calls you names.
In Trump’s case, it is easy to see this as a political strategy: He discredits the news media broadly and certain news organizations specifically to build distrust among the American people and make them slower to believe the next story about something wrong within the Trump administration.
No news organization has ever been perfect. We all make mistakes, some of them very serious. To maintain credibility, we must acknowledge our every mistake and then work hard to regain public trust.
But what the Trump administration did Friday went beyond name-calling, even beyond politics.
Instead of its regular afternoon briefing, the White House press office convened a meeting of reporters in press secretary Sean Spicer’s office and barred representatives of certain disfavored news organizations — The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, Politico, Buzzfeed and others — from attending.
It’s not unusual for access to certain events to be limited to only a small group of reporters, called a pool, who then pass on information to other organizations in the press room. That’s simply crowd management.
Friday’s meeting pool was greatly expanded to include favored organizations — Breitbart News (Trump adviser Steve Bannon’s alma mater), The Washington Times, One America News Network and others.
Of the major television news outlets, only CNN was blocked. CNN most recently encountered Trump’s ire by reporting that FBI officials declined a White House request to discredit reports of contacts between Trump associates and Russians known to U.S. intelligence.
Freedom and democracy require an informed public.
This White House act was not part of the normal and healthy adversarial relationship between news media and government officials. It was a salvo of censorship, meant to show that any organization that displeases Trump with the news they produce will be punished.
It was a threat to us all.