Dear Washington Journalists: Access is Dead. Get Used to it

by Kerry Eleveld –

Donald Trump hasn’t given a press conference since July 27, 2016. He’s routinely ditched his traveling press corps for things as important as his first post-election meeting with President Obama to sneaking out of Trump Tower for a swanky dinner (apparently Trump Grill didn’t cut the mustard). And this week Reince Priebus stirred things up when he suggested the daily White House press briefing was one of those “traditions” that is being re-evaluated.

There’s no mystery to what’s going to happen under Trump’s administration when it comes to the press. Access is dead. Journalists will have to reorient and, frankly, it might lead to some better reporting. No longer burdened by the nagging question of whether running a certain story might put them in exile, Washington journalists can simply report what needs to be reported.

A journalism professor on MSNBC this week (didn’t catch his name) said something I totally agree with: Washington reporters will have to quit working from the inside out and start working from the outside in.

This approach can take many forms but talking to civil servants who opt to stay in their jobs despite Trump is one of them. As veteran journalist Timothy Noah noted, civil servants—whom Washington reporters usually ignore because they don’t think they’re “connected” enough—will likely become a lifeline to reality. People working in the bowels of the federal government are going to be uniquely situated to a) know when shit’s going down; and b) actually care. Noah labels them “anonymous dissidents” made even more important by Trump’s desire to force his political appointees to sign non-disclosure agreements.

Another way for journalists to commit acts of journalism is from them to meticulously keep track of what Trump said he would do—his campaign pledges—and what he’s actually doing. Documenting his slow drift from what he presented to voters and what he becomes is both important and requires no access.

Here’s an early example of such a log from Aaron Blake, who reminded us of five things Trump said he would do, but hasn’t. His repeated promise to hold press conferences was one of them, but another that most had forgotten about: the campaign’s assurance that Melania Trump would hold a press conference to clear up questions about whether she violated U.S. immigration laws. Here’s Trump in August:

“She came in totally legally, all right? … I said to her, ‘No, no. Let it simmer for a little while. Let them go wild. Let it simmer, and then let’s have a little news conference.’ … Let me tell you one thing. She has got it so documented, so she’s going to have a little news conference over the next couple of weeks. That’s good. I love it. I love it.”

Or let’s not have a news conference.

Finally, and this is a little outside the box—any head of a news operation would do well to make sure to have a cadre of local reporters in Trump country checking in with folks regularly about how they think Trump is doing. Have their lives improved, healthcare, jobs, etc.? Give those voters a feedback loop. If Trump and his executive team are going to shut out journalists at the top and habitually lie about what he’s doing or intends to do, then facts on the ground will be more important than ever.

Bottom line: when the spigot gets turned off, you’ve got to quit whining about it and find another source.


Reprinted with permission from Daily Kos