Trump is not even in office yet, and already he is taking the free press to task for its collective reporting of him during the campaign. Never mind that his campaign spent almost nothing on advertising, as he had so much free coverage he did not need to advrtise! Wouldn’t you think he would be a little bit grateful? Yesterday, he met with various television journalists and network executives, primarily, it seems, to complain about their coverage of him and his antics, saying their reporting was both unfair and dishonest. Nothing quite like biting the hand that fed him for an entire year and likely helped boost him into that big White House.
Full disclosure of the meeting is unavailable, as it was an off-the-record meeting and the terms specifically prohibit the participants from speaking publicly about it, however a few attendees did speak, under the condition of anonymity. Attendees of the meeting on Trump’s side included the Breitbart thug, Steve Bannon, and Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner. Kushner himself is the principal owner of Observer Media, publisher of the weekly New York Observer. On the media side were such notables as George Stephanopoulos, Chuck Todd, David Muir, Wolf Blitzer, Jeff Zucker, and Martha Raddatz, to name a few.
The few journalists who spoke of the meeting said Trump was combative and rude, that he called out specific people such as Zucker and Raddatz for their failure to ‘provide viewers with fair and accurate coverage’ of himself. Kellyanne Conway, of course, disagreed, saying that the meeting was “very cordial, very productive, very congenial.” I don’t know about the rest of you, but I am inclined to believe the media over Conway. Now, this meeting may not seem like a big deal, but it must be put into context. First, one must remember that during his campaign, Trump actually took the press credentials away from some of the major media outlets, including the Washington Post. We must also remember that he swore that when he was president he would sue any media organization that said untrue or unkind things about him. And throughout his campaign, he has verbally attacked specific journalists who reported on him, and has referred to the press in general as ‘the lowest form of humanity.’
So, what was the purpose of the meeting? Only Trump knows for sure, but I strongly suspect it was an attempt to intimidate. Fortunately, the most respectable of the members of the media will not back down, they see freedom of the press as their civic duty, their mission in life, and will do all in their power to continue to provide valuable information to us as long as they can. A few of the comments by Trump:
- To Jeff Zucker, President of CNN: “I hate your network, everyone at CNN is a liar and you should be ashamed.”
- “We’re in a room of liars, the deceitful, dishonest media who got it all wrong.”
- CBS Good Morning’ co-host Gayle King asked: “How do you propose we the media work with you?” Good question, and unfortunately I do not know if Trump responded or what his response was.
One anonymous source said, “Everyone thought they were going there to figure out how to work together, and he ended up just telling them how disappointed he was in certain things.”
The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) is an independent, nonprofit international organization that promotes press freedom worldwide, defending the right of journalists to report the news without fear of reprisal. Typically, their attention is on countries like Turkey, Russia, China, Sudan, Egypt, etc., but earlier this month they issued the following statement:
“CPJ plans to intensify our documentation of press freedom violations in the United States, following the election on November 8, 2016, of Donald Trump as president. During his campaign, Trump verbally attacked journalists, restricted access, threatened lawsuits, and promised to make legal action against the media easier under his administration.”
Last week, CPJ sent a letter to Trump’s VP pick, Mike Pence, requesting a meeting. You can read the entire letter here, but a few key points:
“We … are concerned about the incoming administration’s commitment to upholding freedom of the press in the United States and around the world. We seek a meeting with you to discuss our concerns and recommendations for guaranteeing First Amendment values under the Trump Administration. During the presidential campaign and since its conclusion, the climate for journalists has deteriorated sharply. President-elect Trump has obstructed major news organizations, attacked reporters by name, and contributed to a threatening climate for journalists covering the election.”
I have had and expressed serious concerns about what a Trump presidency would mean for freedom of the press, and I am not alone. Trump, as we all know by now, is very thin-skinned and does not handle criticism in a mature way. The power of the office of president does have certain restrictions, and he could not simply take office and shut down any of the media outlets. However, it would not be impossible for him to chip away at the freedom of the media to report on him, and it is not a long stretch of my imagination to see a day when the only media organizations with access to report on him are those like Breitbart, New York Observer, and those that say what he wants them to say, rather than those who report openly, honestly, and with the interest of the public in mind.
Yesterday, Trump cancelled a scheduled meeting with the New York Times, the oldest and arguably most respected mainstream newspaper in the U.S. This morning he re-scheduled the meeting. There is to be both a recorded session and an off-the-record session. Initially, Trump said he cancelled the meeting because the Times changed the ground rules, however that notion was dispelled by the Times. It is now reported that the cancellation came because Reince Priebus warned Trump that he would face questions he might not be prepared to answer. Trump has referred to the Times as “the failing New York Times” multiple times in recent months, and has threatened them with lawsuits. This is not the way to begin a relationship, Donnie-boy!
At the time of this writing, the meetings between the Trump team and the Times are still in process, so I have no information about the agenda or outcome.
The media made a shambles of the 2016 election by giving almost round-the-clock, unlimited free coverage to Trump, while at the same time failing to cover many of the important stories about Trump’s business dealings, lawsuits, etc., until the final weeks of the campaign. I believe they had a hand in Trump being elected. That said, a free press is essential to democracy, and we, as citizens, would have no access to information about our government without them. They are key to the survival of this nation, and while they have made mistakes, I support them 100%. I may complain, but they are arguably the single most important institution we have in this nation. We must not stand by and allow Mr. Trump to control the flow of information that enables us to know what our elected officials are doing, and that helps us to make better choices at election time. We cannot let Trump become another Erdogan or Putin!