On Friday, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer took yet another step to denounce the free press. He blocked news organizations critical of President Trump from entering an informal briefing and question-and-answer session, also know as a gaggle. Literally at the door, certain journalists who had passed rigorous security clearances and journalistic committee approvals were told they simply weren’t on the list.
The organizations barred included the New York Times, CNN, Buzzfeed, the Los Angeles Times and Politico. The New York Times published stories in the last two weeks that were unflattering to Trump regarding the Russia controversy. Buzzfeed was the first outlet to publish the leaked FBI documents, the ones that revealed the Russia-Trump controversy and the infamous “golden showers.” We are all painfully aware of Trump’s hatred of CNN. He calls it fake news nearly every time he speaks.
The San Francisco Foghorn is firmly against this exclusion of the press, as we would be against any actions taken by those in power to discredit responsible journalism. Journalism stands as a check against the powerful and the voice for the people. Three of the aforementioned five organizations have been legitimized in the media sphere through decades of dedicated, methodical, investigative reporting.
It’s true that the is not the first time journalists have been hindered by the White House. Obama uninvited three conservative news outlets from boarding his press plane in 2008. As heard on the “Nixon Tapes” released in 1973, Richard Nixon told his press secretary, ”I want it clearly understood from now on, ever, no reporter from the Washington Post is ever to be in the White House. Is that clear?” The difference between these incidents and Trump’s block is the context and number of organizations affected.
The context is Trump banned these journalists in light of his labeling of time-tested news outlets as “fake news.” It’s the smartest argument an untruthful man in power can make. “They say I’m a liar, but they’re liars, so who are you going to believe?” The number of new sources barred from the gaggle is unprecedented. In the past, administrations have targeted specific news outlets. For Obama it was Fox News. For Nixon it was the Washington Post. But Trump goes after the media as a whole. No administration has ever blocked this many longstanding news sources at one time.
At the Foghorn, we are a team of student journalists. We inform the student body, in an attempt to protect us all from potential negligence or the abuse of authority. This is exactly what the news organizations blocked by President Trump do for the American people: they protect the nation from unchecked power.
White House briefings are an integral part of this protection. Briefings allow journalists the chance to get real answers to questions that the White House would never reveal on its own. Journalists of different organizations are united in seeking out the truth.
It’s always been this way. To block journalists from practicing accurate journalism is not only dangerous, it is strikingly authoritarian. If our nation claims to be a beacon of democracy, this move by the President is painfully undemocratic.
What does this mean for the future of the news? We hope the Trump administration’s treatment of investigative journalism does not establish a precedent. This is not what American journalism is supposed to be. This is not the relationship that the government and the press are supposed to have. As former President George W. Bush said on Monday, “I consider the media to be indispensable to democracy… it’s important for the media to call to account people who abuse their power, whether it be here or elsewhere.”