Kicking the press out of the White House would be a positive development for journalism in America
The Fake News is working overtime. Just reported that, despite the tremendous success we are having with the economy & all things else, 91% of the Network News about me is negative (Fake). Why do we work so hard in working with the media when it is corrupt? Take away credentials?
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 9, 2018
I knew as soon as I read the above tweet from President Trump shortly after he posted it that the media would soon be up in arms patting themselves on the back for their own courageous coverage of Trump and portray this likely throwaway comment as an attack on press freedom and their ability to effectively cover the Trump regime. John Wagner didn't disappoint in his article for the Washington Post:
Revoking media credentials could restrict the ability of news organizations to report from the White House grounds, to attend press briefings and to travel with Trump on Air Force One.
The president’s tweets prompted an outcry on social media, including from Walter Shaub, the former director of the Office of Government Ethics.
In a tweet directed at Trump, he wrote: “’Take away credentials?’ These authoritarian impulses of yours are anti-American.”
With several opposition politicians and journalists chiming in on Twitter:
Attending press briefings, reporting from the White House grounds, and traveling with Trump aboard Air Force One aren't necessary conditions of doing good journalism, as any number of media outlets can attest to. The Intercept, founded by Jeremy Scahill, Laura Poitras, and Glenn Greenwald, has no press credentials from the White House that I'm aware of, and they do far more compelling journalism than most larger organizations that have a consistent presence at the White House.
Not only are press credentials unnecessary for solid reporting on the U.S. government, I would argue that if you're reliant on proximity to administration officials for your "reporting," you're probably not a very good reporter in the first place. Uncritically "reporting" the public talking points of the administration or even quoting anonymous government sources can be important to any story, but too many of the reporters closest to the White House mistake them for stories in and of themselves. This is not so much journalism as it is stenography.
This journalistic mindset ties into a discussion I got into on Twitter last week involving Stephen Miller, a contributor at FoxNews.com, and some reporter named Devon Heinen involving the nature and role of the Press Secretary for any administration.
If you, as a journalist, don't understand that every politician, political appointee, and staff member of a political office is going to try to spin you for political purposes then you have no business calling yourself a journalist. Whether they're telling you the full truth, a partial truth, or lying right to your face, they are trying to get you to help them sell their political agenda. It's the job of a journalist to take an adversarial approach to their subjects and report the truth as best they can, but you can't do that effectively if you're under the naive assumption that press secretaries and their flunkies are generally truthful.
But it's exactly the journalists whose work could barely be described as journalism who will complain the loudest about this assault on their noble tradition, but revoking press credentials isn't authoritarian, an attack against the free press or democracy, or a violation of the First Amendment. What it is is inconvenient for "journalists" with cushy jobs reporting on the White House and getting paid to summarize administration talking points. Without their White House press credentials they might actually have to do some real journalism for a change.