An official covers a network television camera with a shirt after the room was cleared due to a bomb threat during a briefing by White House Press Secretary John Earnest at the White House, June 9, 2015. 
Photo by Pool/Reuters

Team Trump eyes major changes to press’ White House access

Rudy Giuliani, a prominent Donald Trump ally, said last week, “It is refreshing and it is very good for our democracy that we have a president that is trying to get us back to a free press.” The use of the word “back” suggests, in Trump World, we don’t have a free press now, but the incoming administration has some changes in mind to improve matters.

It’s the nature of these changes, of course, that matter.

Over the weekend, for example, the president-elect published an all-caps message calling the now-infamous Russia/Trump dossier “a complete fraud.” Trump’s source? A report from One America News Network – a new Fox News rival that hired Corey Lewandowski two days earlier.

Also last week, at his first press conference since he publicly urged Russia to launch a cyber-attack against his Democratic opponent, Trump shut down a CNN reporter – he described the network “fake news” – and instead called on someone from Breitbart News, a right-wing website that enjoyed a front-row seat.

It’s a new day for the political press.

To be sure, this isn’t completely without precedent. Exactly 12 years ago this week, then-President George W. Bush called on someone from an outlet called “Talon News,” whose controversial correspondent, Jeff Gannon/James Guckert, asked in reference to Democrats, “How are you going to work with people who seem to have divorced themselves from reality?”

But what’s less clear now is whether the Trump White House’s approach to news organizations will be even worse. His team’s approach to the press during the campaign was a mess – it included blacklisting and “press pens” – but Esquire published a report over the weekend that raised eyebrows further.
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.

“There has been no decision,” Sean Spicer, Trump’s press secretary, said about the plan today. But Spicer acknowledged that “there has been some discussion about how to do it.”
The piece quoted an unnamed official on Team Trump referring to news organizations as “the opposition party.” This person reportedly added, “I want ‘em out of the building. We are taking back the press room.”

On NBC’s “Meet the Press” yesterday, RNC Chairman Reince Priebus, who’ll take over as White House chief of staff on Friday, acknowledged some discussions about possible logistical changes. Priebus said the White House press briefing room is “very tiny,” so moving to a larger room, away from the West Wing, would provide “more access.”

When host Chuck Todd asked if there will still be journalists going to work every day in the White House, Priebus hedged. “Well, that hasn’t been determined,” he said.

The relationship between the West Wing and the news outlets Americans count on to scrutinize the White House is likely to change quite a bit after the transition of power.

Postscript: One thing to watch for going forward is whether any of the changes Team Trump has in mind relate to space for political allies. At last week’s press conference, for example, the president-elect was interrupted by applause, not because journalists were impressed with his answers, but because Team Trump had “filled the room with paid staffers who clapped and cheered” for their boss,

Is this why they’re looking to have more people on hand for press briefings and press conferences? Is this what will “get us back to a free press”?