How can public citizens get a glimpse of White House decision-making and policy without a free press? Short answer: they can’t.
White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer and Deputy Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee-Sanders have only held 5 daily briefings (out of 15) on camera in the month of June. This is an apparent effort to numb the general public about the intents and efforts of the Trump Administration.
According to Politico, the White House daily briefings have included some changes since Trump took the White House. Specifically, the White House has cancelled some briefings altogether, made briefings increasingly short, or hosted off-camera briefings. In some cases, reporters were not even allowed to use audio from the briefings afterward.
This is without question an attempt to further control the day’s news cycle. It gives reporters and news organizations less power to disseminate and frame the briefings as they see fit. It also forces them to rely on the slow drip and non-answers from Spicer and Huckabee-Sanders.
Answers like “the tweet speaks for itself” or “I’ll have to ask the President” are not appropriate explanations for the President’s statements and actions.
As Brian Stelter of CNN points out, without full press access, all we have to rely on is the word of the Trump Administration themselves–and they have proven time and again to be untrustworthy.
Trump is "rolling back press access inch by inch by inch, declining to answer questions and dodging interviewers." https://t.co/AJkhV0canN
— Reliable Sources (@ReliableSources) June 25, 2017
Spicer says the briefings have been increasingly off camera in order to prevent distractions from the President, especially if Trump is giving a speech that day. Spicer also claims reporters are looking for fame, and achieve it via heated exchanges with the Press Secretary on camera.
This is weak reasoning, of course. It is more likely that Trump and Spicer are frustrated with their inability to defend Trump’s choices.
The Trump White House is not the first administration to block press access or elude honest reporting. According to The New York Times, the Obama Administration prosecuted more journalists and whistle-blowers than any administration prior. With that precedent, the Trump administration has more leeway to take its aggression out on reporters.
A free and fair press is an essential fourth estate in American politics. The media is a crucial institution that should be protected, valued, and respected just as much as any other branch of government. It provides necessary checks to executive power and forces transparency from the government.
We know that the press does not always do their job. There are certainly moments where they get the story wrong or allow a corporate agenda to overshadow their duty to the public.
Yet, the press’s shortcomings are no excuse for the Trump Administration to purposefully elude the public. Minimizing press access is not the answer, as off-camera briefings sow confusion and diminish the press’s opportunity to shine a light on the administration in a meaningful way.
The public deserves to hear from their president’s administration. Free press is the only way to ensure that.
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