Media's Public

‘Bullying’ the White House press

By Pachico A. Seares
Public & Standards Editor
Sun.Star Cebu and Sun.Star Superbalita

U.S. reporters may have to bear with the press secretary’s rant. Trump people own the mic, set the rules. And journalists can talk back in their own individual news outlets and media platforms.

A number of reporters covering the White House have felt they’re being made to suffer in their job of getting the news about U.S. President Trump and his administration.

Trump gave early warnings about battling the press, whom he has tagged “the enemies of the people.” His threats included amending libel law to make it easier for media to be held liable, reducing the number of press-cons he will give, and perhaps abolishing the daily White House briefings.

And his constant sniping at “fake” media, begun during the campaign, has no shown signs of a let-up. Last week, he blasted, among others, CNN for its report about an investigation on a link between a Trump transition member and Russia, which the broadcast network admitted as erroneous and led to the resignation of three of its reporters.


Inevitably, Trump’s hostility to the “independent” press has spilled over to the White House briefings, expressed or suggested by:

◘ The recurring switch-off of video and/or audio recording during the briefing;
◘ Constant stonewalling on issues that embarrass Trump (“I haven’t spoken to the president on that one”: “I will take it up with the president”);
◘ Scant answers and clear evasions, the “aw, shucks, golly gee” b.s. that Press Secretary Sean Spencer and his deputy Sarah Huckabee Sanders neither honestly explain much more apologize for; and, not the least,
◘ The attacks on media whenever the press secretary has the chance or Trump gives the cue through his serial tweets.

Trump’s gripes

Such an attack set off the brief explosion Tuesday (June 28, PH time) by Brian Karem, a correspondent of “Playboy” magazine, who told Sanders to stop “inflaming” the press corps with charges of fake news against the press corps, “which has garnered a lot of frustration.”

Sanders, talking about the CNN fiasco, earlier rehashed the Trump camp’s beef against the “anti-Trump” media and cited:
— “Constant barrage” of fake news “directed against the president,” notably the latest CNN slip-up and other “multiple incidents” she didn’t name;
— Not naming the sources of the news; and
— Not reporting positive news about the Trump government.

Part of plot?

Interestingly, the charges that the Trump camp and the media hurl at each other involve fake news: Trump says he gets from media that “barrage” of fake news Sanders talked about. The press says Trump devalues all stories he hates or doesn’t agree with and labels them bogus.

Trump’s strategy could be, as the “Playboy” reporter put it, this: “to dissolve the independent media… co-opt the media, make us, if we don’t print what they want or broadcast what they like, we’re automatically fake media.”

Complaints about anonymous sources and negative reporting are ancient and common. Administrations before Trump were also confounded by it and those that follow Trump’s will raise the same complaint: why independent media’s focus on crimes and mistakes of government, publicizing secrets, with the sources of the leak not identified.

Trump doesn’t need a tutorial on journalism. His game is to knock down unfriendly media by demonizing them even as he tells his lies through right-wing media or directly, in rallies and tweets, to his hard-core voters rallies and tweets.

Not bullying

Karem and other reporters covering the White House may stop looking at Sanders’s rant as bullying. First, Trump’s people own the microphones which, with the cameras, they can switch on or off. Second, they set the rules; they may even cancel the briefings and hold them only when they have good news to spread.

Reporters can regard the attack on media as part of the answers. And as long as they can also lament, rectify or pontificate in their questions, that would be all right. They have no choice. After all, they can tell their audiences whatever meager or outrageous stuff would come out of the Trump surrogates’ mouth.

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