BILL PRESS: Trumps new reality show Beat the press

Shannon Stapleton—X90052
U.S. President-elect Donald Trump speaks during a press conference in Trump Tower

Donald Trump loves to pick a fight. In just the last two weeks, he’s picked a fight with Arnold Schwarzenegger, Meryl Streep, CNN and Rep. John Lewis. And now he’s itching to pick a fight with the White House press corps.
This should come as no surprise. After all, waging war on the media was the centerpiece of his campaign. He banned the Washington Post, Huffington Post, Buzzfeed and others from his campaign rallies. At every event, he pointed to the “dishonest” reporters in the crowd. He even singled out certain reporters by name — forcing some news organizations to hire security guards for their journalists.
Any idea that Trump might pursue a more positive working relationship with the press disappeared at his first post-election news conference when Press Secretary Sean Spicer, vice-president-elect Mike Pence and then Trump himself blasted CNN and Buzzfeed for their accounts of the supplemental intelligence briefing provided to Trump and President Obama by the CIA and FBI. Even reporting that the briefing took place, Trump charged, was “fake news,” which, of course, it wasn’t.
Now the war against the media shifts to the White House. Even before taking office, the Trump administration signaled its intentions to clamp down on White House reporters. Both Spicer and Chief of Staff Reince Priebus acknowledged they were considering major changes in press operations, including eliminating or reducing the number of daily briefings and perhaps even moving reporters out of the White House altogether. There were also rumors that some reporters might have their coveted White House pass revoked.
I admit, as a member of the White House Correspondents’ Association, I have my bias. Nevertheless, being as objective as I can, I believe all those proposed changes would be bad news. For reporters, yes, but also for the Trump administration — and for the American people.
It’s bad news for reporters because, quite simply, without access to the White House, we would not be able to do our job. It’s not just showing up for the daily briefing. Without working offices in the White House itself, reporters would not have ready access to the president, press secretary and other officials. They would not be nearby when a big news story breaks and they need to get official reaction. They would not be able to monitor and report the flow of daily business at the White House and the stream of official, or unofficial, visitors.
To justify any proposed changes, Priebus asserts that moving reporters out of the White House itself and into the Old Executive Office Building is no big deal, because it’s all part of the 18-acre White House Complex. Nonsense. The OEOB is a totally separate building, across the street from the White House. And reporters are not permitted to travel from the OEOB to the White House, or vice versa, without an escort. We might as well be exiled to Anacostia.
Members of the new Trump administration may not realize it yet, but the changes they propose are not good for them, either. For the president and his team, there’s a real value in having the press corps in-house. It’s a ready-made platform for them to get their message out, unfiltered, every day. It’s an instant soapbox. It’s the world’s loudest microphone and biggest TV studio, ready to turn on, anytime they need it.
It also forces them to hone their message for public consumption daily, which is a message President Obama seemed to be delivering directly to the Trump team in his last news conference, on Jan. 18. After thanking reporters for their efforts over the years, Obama noted: “Having you in this building… keeps us honest. It makes us work harder. It made us think about how we are doing, what we do, and whether or not we’re able to deliver on what’s been requested by our constituents.” Without that presence of the media, the Trump administration would be operating with blinders on.
And so would the American people. That’s what’s most important. Reporters in the White House are the eyes and ears of all Americans. After all, the president works for us. As his boss, we have a right to know what’s going on every day. The only way we’ll know that is by maintaining a tough, aggressive team of reporters inside the White House.
Bill Press is host of a nationally-syndicated radio show, CNN political analyst and author.