At what point should journalists get offended, on behalf of themselves and their employers, that Donald Trump hasn’t pulled their credentials?
What are we, chopped liver?
This week Trump, the presumptive GOP presidential nominee, revoked the credentials of “the phony and dishonest Washington Post.” The immediate reason was the Post’s original online headline for a story about a Trump speech that read “Donald Trump suggests President Obama was involved with Florida shooting.” The paper says it changed the headline of its own accord to “Donald Trump seems to connect President Obama to Orlando Shooting” before Trump complained.
To be fair, the original headline was over the top to the point of being misleading. But that is too frustratingly common to justify a ban. Sometimes a young, aggressive online editor whose job partly depends on web traffic puts up a headline like “Beloved Grandparents To Begin Dropping Dead In Droves” and it takes a while before a stodgy boss demands the headline be changed to “Demographic Shifts Will Increase Mortality Rates as Baby Boomers Age.”
Also frustratingly common: the Trump campaign banning news organizations because he disapproves of their coverage. In the past year, Trump has done it to Gawker, BuzzFeed (was it something it listed?), Foreign Policy (those scamps!), Politico, Fusion, Univision, Mother Jones, the New Hampshire Union Leader, the Des Moines Register, the Daily Beast and the Huffington Post.
It’s hard to say what being banned from covering Trump really means. He’s on TV 24/7, the kind of politician a former co-worker called “unavoidable for comment.” And if you really want to cover a campaign event, getting credentialed to go into the press corral, where journalists are penned like wrinkled, sweaty sheep, is the worst possible way to do it. Unless their goal is to interview other journalists, which usually goes like this:
Journalist No. 1: “I hear Trump is going to put more resources into his ground game. I’m writing it up for tomorrow.”
Journalist No. 2: “I said that at the bar of the Tampa Hilton at 2:30 this morning. And you still owe me for those jalapeño poppers.”
On the campaign trail, it’s usually the public helping us commit significant acts of journalism, and the pros and politicos trying to stop us.
But as the campaign goes on and Trump tells more media to scram, it could easily become a badge of honor, and not being barred could become a wee tad embarrassing.
“Wait, you guys haven’t even been banned by Trump? Do you not bother to tell the truth about him, or does he not think you’re important enough to keep out of his events?”
The real problem isn’t that a presidential candidate is trying to bar members of the media from covering his campaign. That’s weird, but it’s also ineffective and goofy. The real problem is that a guy who thinks it’s OK to bar media outlets that get on his nerves might go from running his campaign to running our country, and think it’s OK to ban the news media from covering the government.
It’s the media that discover government screw-ups — from the soldiers mistreated to the money wasted to the civilians bombed to the email scandals to the cover-ups. It’s the politicians who commit the screw-ups and try to hide them, and the politicians who berate the constitutionally protected news media for exposing them. The media is, however imperfect, the friend of the people. And the politician who tries to stifle the press is, however seductive, the enemy.
Lane Filler is a member of Newsday’s editorial board.