I don’t recall anybody calling for a boycott of Barack Obama or his myrmidons for his media scheming and for tipping the “balance of power between the White House and press … unmistakably toward the government,” as the Politico past-masters put it. The press mostly carried on, threading the thicket of treacheries as best it could. Governments always have and will always impede the press from doing their job, and they will use any means necessary. “All governments lie,” as journalist I.F. Stone once wrote, “but disaster lies in wait for countries whose officials smoke the same hashish they give out.” From my vantage, the Obama administration got Choom Gang stoned on their media pirouetting and the Trump administration seems to have come close to matching them in just a couple of days.
Okay, look. I get that reporters were just as guilty of tire-swinging with Obama as they were during the Bush administration, but Obama incited crowds to attack precisely nobody in the Washington press corps so maybe not so much with the Both Sides Do It when one of the sides is Trump.
As to Shafer’s point about tactics, however, we are agreed IN PART:
Boycotts and bans may fill a journalists’ heart with vengeance, or at least keep it from being bruised. But their maker designed reporters to be resilient, to take disparagement, derision, scorn, and sneering from lying government officials in stride. And for good reason. To quote from Jon Ronson once again, “It’s good for journalists to feel demeaned. It means we’re onto a story.” Rather than treat the Spicer, Trump, Conway ingenuities as an excuse to pout and leave the field, the experienced members of the press will be propelled by the weekend to pick up their mobiles and notebooks and go maximum Fahrenthold on the administration.
You can do what Fahrenthold did and refuse to sit there in the White House while they feed you lies. We hear lots and lots of talk about how there’s no money for journalism, so why pay someone to hang out in the dumbest, ugliest clubhouse there is? It’s not like the old days when that was the only way you got to speak to the president or his advisors. We have these telephone thingies now. I hear our current president is fond of broadcasting his thoughts on the internet.
Journalists shouldn’t rise to the bait and decide to treat Trump as an enemy. Recalling at all times that their mission is truth-telling and holding public officials accountable, they should dig in, paying far more attention to actions than to sensational tweets or briefing-room lies — while still being willing to call out falsehoods clearly when they happen.
When I say #sendtheinterns I mean it literally: take a bold decision to put your most junior people in the briefing room. Recognize that the real story is elsewhere, and most likely hidden. That’s why the experienced reporters need to be taken out of the White House, and put on other assignments.
All of these still spend a lot more time than I think is really healthy talking about what is good for the press, and not what serves readers/viewers. The whinging in response to Sullivan & Rosen’s commentary was epic, natch: But our access! Our traditions! Our routines and we HAVE TO book the president’s people, we HAVE TO call them for comment! Blah blah blah please don’t make me change my contact list.
And I get that certain formats have certain constraints. If you have a panel every Sunday then you need people for that panel. So … why have a panel, then? If a panel isn’t working for you, throw the panel out. Why do journalists perpetuate formats that require people like Kellyanne Conway (or some equivalently vacant and nominally Democratic creature like James Carville) to weigh in? Gosh, I wonder if the president’s advisors are going to defend his policies! I wonder if someone from “the other side,” on the rare days when genuine opposition is actually heard, will oppose them! I wonder if any news is being made here or anyone is being told anything they don’t already know!
Seriously, who is this supposed to be serving? Who is the audience here? Is it other journalists on Twitter? Is it congressmen and their staffers who watch this stuff religiously? Because nobody else is learning a single thing here.
A lot of professional press critics are coming around to the idea that they need to flip the script in terms of how they cover the White House. They should be coming around to the idea that they need to take a look at how they cover politics, and not just flip the script. They need to make a different movie.