Trump Prepares to Lock Press out of the White House

by Mark Sumner –

The White House may be the “people’s house,” but as of January 20, one group of people will be excluded. Following his shout-fest with a CNN reporter rude enough to ask a question at his first-in-six-month press conference, Donald Trump is preparing to cap his war with the news by eliminating the White House press room.

According to three senior officials on the transition team, a plan to evict the press corps from the White House is under serious consideration by the incoming Trump Administration. If the plan goes through, one of the officials said, the media will be removed from the cozy confines of the White House press room, where it has worked for several decades. Members of the press will be relocated to the White House Conference Center—near Lafayette Square—or to a space in the Old Executive Office Building, next door to the White House.

And why not? In a thousand ways, over almost as many days, the major papers, networks, and new agencies have demonstrated that they value access over accuracy. They let themselves be penned up, humiliated, lied to, and berated. They stood dully behind their bars while the would-be leader of the nation excoriated them for having the audacity to say anything against him, and the next day they did it again.

And now they’re done.

The president-elect’s chief of staff, Reince Priebus, echoed Pence’s remarks Sunday, saying the news conference demonstrated the need for more space since the briefing room accommodates only about 50 people.

The current seating has no space for Breitbart, no room for InfoWars, or One America News, or Stormfront. The new space will mean Trump doesn’t just lock the New York Times, and MSNBC and CBS and Reuters out of the White House. They’ll get to sit in the back row of his new press pen and watch as Alex Jones asks questions. If they’re lucky.

A quick reminder from Masha Gessen.

Institutions will not save you. It took Putin a year to take over the Russian media and four years to dismantle its electoral system; the judiciary collapsed unnoticed. The capture of institutions in Turkey has been carried out even faster, by a man once celebrated as the democrat to lead Turkey into the EU. Poland has in less than a year undone half of a quarter century’s accomplishments in building a constitutional democracy.

Of course, the United States has much stronger institutions than Germany did in the 1930s, or Russia does today. Both Clinton and Obama in their speeches stressed the importance and strength of these institutions. The problem, however, is that many of these institutions are enshrined in political culture rather than in law, and all of them—including the ones enshrined in law—depend on the good faith of all actors to fulfill their purpose and uphold the Constitution.

The national press is likely to be among the first institutional victims of Trumpism. There is no law that requires the presidential administration to hold daily briefings, none that guarantees media access to the White House. Many journalists may soon face a dilemma long familiar to those of us who have worked under autocracies: fall in line or forfeit access. There is no good solution (even if there is a right answer), for journalism is difficult and sometimes impossible without access to information.

Trump’s journalists have been trained. They’ll stand any abuse, normalize any insanity, for the coveted access. That’s what they did during the election. That’s what they’ll do now.

Teddy Roosevelt created the first White House press room, and the current room has been in place since Richard Nixon floored over the White House indoor pool to make space. But perhaps Trump is feeling like doing a little backstroke, because it seems clear that space will soon be put to purposes other than a daily press briefing.

“They are the opposition party,” a senior official says. “I want ’em out of the building. We are taking back the press room.”

 

Reprinted with permission from Daily Kos