Donald Trump’s news conference on Wednesday allowed no room for doubt that his presidency will be Trumpy and unprecedented in a variety of areas. One of those areas concerns the media.
While taking questions, Trump got into a shouting match with CNN’s Jim Acosta, ultimately refusing to answer a question from the reporter and closing with “You are fake news,” most likely due to CNN’s reporting of a story referencing memos that were later published by Buzzfeed. Those memos featured “salacious accusations” concerning Trump, but at the time were — and remain — uncorroborated.
(There is all the difference in the world between how CNN and Buzzfeed handled this story. For more on that, see this story by Patterico at RedState.)
A number of conservatives, fed up with the mainstream media’s treat of their worldview over the years, applauded Trump’s shutting down of CNN. This development is troubling.
While CNN is no doubt biased to the left, this response from conservatives appears hypocritical, considering that they raked President Obama and his administration over the coals for its willingness to exclude Fox News from interviews in 2009.
Let’s revisit that episode. What happened exactly was the subject of some discussion, so it is helpful that Judicial Watch obtained White House documents and emails concerning the controversy.
Howard Kurtz at The Daily Beast sums them up well:
On Oct. 22, 2009, Dag Vega, the White House director of broadcast media, wrote to a Treasury official that “we’d prefer if you skip Fox please.” Deputy White House communications director Jennifer Psaki wrote the official, Jenni LeCompte, and other colleagues about a report by Fox anchor Bret Baier on the network’s exclusion that “brett baier just did a stupid piece on it — but he is a lunatic.”
The next day, Psaki wrote: “I am putting some dead fish in the fox cubby – just cause.” And deputy press secretary Josh Earnest wrote LeCompte that day: “We’ve demonstrated our willingness and ability to exclude Fox News from significant interviews…” [Emphasis mine]
For our purposes in the Trump-CNN kerfuffle, the most relevant sentence is this: “The attempt [to exclude Fox] failed when the other networks refused to go along unless Fox was included.” [Emphasis mine] The other networks recognized the dangerous precedent set by a president refusing access to a major network critical of him.
The First Amendment is not under assault here, but one reason for the freedom of the press is as a check on the president and the rest of the government. It has long been understood that the president must be able to take questions from a media that does not share his viewpoints.
Trump, like Obama, is sensitive to criticism. This is no excuse. News networks ought to stand together when one might be excluded by the president. This is why it is noteworthy that Fox News’ Shepard Smith criticized the president-elect for his shouting down of CNN’s Acosta. Said Smith:
“Though we at Fox News cannot confirm CNN’s report, it is our observation that its correspondents followed journalistic standards and that neither they nor any other journalists should be subjected to belittling and delegitimizing by the president-elect of the United States.”
If Fox News wishes to adhere to their slogan “Fair and Balanced,” considering their own history with potential exclusion by the president, the network as a whole should follow Shepard Smith’s lead and stand together with CNN. So should conservatives.