In 2009, after President Obama had been in office for about eight months, he and some of his top aides had some unkind things to say about Fox News. The Beltway establishment quickly called for the fainting couch. The Washington Post’s Ruth Marcus, in particular, was outraged – not that the president had something untrue, but because Obama had the audacity to criticize a major news organization directly.
Marcus called the White House’s Fox criticisms “dumb,” “childish,” “petty,” and “self defeating.” She added that Obama comments had “a distinct Nixonian … aroma.” Soon after, Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) took the Senate floor to complain that the White House’s criticism of a news organization was evidence of the president’s team creating an “enemies list.”
All of this was the result of a few pointed remarks directed at a news outlet. Nothing more.
Seven years later, maybe the Beltway establishment owes Obama an apology – because mild criticism of Fox News is nothing compared to what Donald Trump is up to.
The presumptive Republican presidential nominee announced via social media yesterday that his campaign is “hereby revoking the press credentials of the phony and dishonest Washington Post.” He elaborated in a press statement:
The Washington Post unfortunately covers Mr. Trump very inaccurately. Today’s headline, “Donald Trump Suggests President Obama Was Involved With Orlando Shooting” is a perfect example. We no longer feel compelled to work with a publication which has put its need for “clicks” above journalistic integrity.They have no journalistic integrity and write falsely about Mr. Trump. Mr. Trump does not mind a bad story, but it has to be honest. The fact is, The Washington Post is being used by the owners of Amazon as their political lobbyist so that they don’t have to pay taxes and don’t get sued for monopolistic tendencies that have led to the destruction of department stores and the retail industry.
All of this, for what it’s worth, was in response to this article that largely just quotes Trump’s on-air comments from yesterday morning. (The wording of the headline was later changed.)
Complicating matters is just how often the Republican candidate and his team pick fights like these.
NBC News reported overnight, “The Washington Post becomes the most high-profile media organization to be banned by Trump. Buzzfeed, Politico, the Des Moines Register and New Hampshire Union Leader have also been denied access from the Trump campaign for unfavorable coverage.”
Based on additional reporting, it looks like the Huffington Post, Mother Jones, and the Daily Beast have faced similar treatment.
I suspect there will be some on the right who think this is great. “Trump is sticking it to the media!” they’ll say. “News organizations deserve it!”
Reality isn’t quite that simple. For one thing, the GOP candidate’s fans may want to consider the implication of Trump, who boasts regularly about how “tough” and “strong” he is, feuding with news outlets that hurt his feelings.
For another, let’s not forget how a free press is supposed to operate. The Washington Post’s Chris Cillizza explained:
The problem with what Trump is doing is that he is revoking access because he disagrees with the coverage. Not because we have the facts wrong. It’s because he doesn’t like how the facts are being presented.If you believe in a free press, you should also believe it’s not his right to do that. Trump can complain. He can not grant interviews with The Post (or the other organizations he has banned). He can call them out in speeches as being “dishonest.” But barring reporters from public events because you disagree with what they write is a dangerous precedent.
Cillizza went on to say both Trump and Hillary Clinton “are pushing the boundaries of acceptable conduct” – remember, under Beltway rules, both sides are always wrong, even when only one side is wrong – but his broader point is sound.
Even during Watergate, Richard Nixon didn’t go after the Washington Post’s credentials.