On Monday, United States presidential candidate Donald Trump announced that he has banned one of our country’s most important newspapers, the Washington Post, from his presidential campaign. He wrote on Facebook: “Based on the incredibly inaccurate coverage and reporting of the record setting Trump campaign, we are hereby revoking the press credentials of the phony and dishonest Washington Post.”
He expounded later, impugning the Post’s integrity and claiming that the newspaper is being used by Amazon (the Post is owned by Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon) as a political lobbyist to help Amazon evade taxes, among other baseless assertions.
The Post’s Executive Editor Marty Baron responded by rightly pointing out that Trump’s action was not just an assault on the Post, but on a free and independent press as a whole.
If a news organization writes a story about Trump that he doesn’t like, he bans it. That’s worrisome for two key reasons: on one hand that seems pretty thin-skinned from the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, on the other it shows how Trump would govern, namely as a dictator.
He’s already banned The Huffington Post, The National Review, The Daily Beast, Buzz Feed and Politico from certain events for writing stories that his campaign doesn’t like.
On the surface it’s a childish move, but the implications are much more concerning than merely questions about Trump’s temperament.
If you’re reading this newspaper it’s probably because you believe in what the media stands for. You likely expect that journalists are not in the business of parroting back to you what elected officials tell them. You want your reporters to gather facts, often working to dig up unpleasant information, then present those facts in the most accurate way possible.
Newspapers aren’t in the business of public relations. It isn’t a reporter’s job to make anyone look good. A journalist’s job is to make someone look exactly as they are.
But that’s not what Trump wants. Anyone who has watched a Trump rally has seen him turn on the media, pointing out the penned-up reporters and photojournalists and inciting the crowd to boo them.
When asked at a press conference if he would have journalists killed he initially waffled, responding with “ahh, let’s see ... nah, I wouldn’t. I would never kill ‘em. But I do hate ‘em.”
Before they had their falling out, last March Trump met with the Post’s editorial board, where he explained that he wanted to “loosen up” the libel laws.
When asked to explain, he said, according to the transcript from the meeting, “I mean, The Washington Post never calls me. I never had a call, ‘Why – why did you do this?” or ‘Why did you do that?’ It’s just, you know, like I’m this horrible human being. And I’m not. You know, the one thing we have in common I think we all love the country. Now, maybe we come at it from different sides, but nobody ever calls me. I mean, Bob Costa calls about a political story – he called because we’re meeting senators in a little while and congressmen, supporters – but nobody ever calls.”
He later doubled down on going after journalists.
“We can sue them and win lots of money,” he said at another rally.
Would a Trump presidency result in censorship of the press? I don’t think so. I don’t think Americans would let him get away with outright censorship like we see in Russia and elsewhere. But at the very least, a Trump presidency might mean self-censorship, which I’ve seen firsthand in other countries where reporters are too afraid to write critically of their leaders for fear of being denied access.
The danger is Trump would want to control the White House press pool and only allow in the media outlets that said nice things about him and didn’t ask hard questions. That would badly damage the press’ role to ask important questions and follow-up with public officials when they aren’t forthcoming.
Another key part of this that Trump doesn’t seem to understand? All these news organizations that he’s banned don’t need his permission to write about him. They’ve continued to do it anyway.
Some might argue that his campaign events are private and he can invite whomever he wishes. That’s true, but the campaign process is intended to apply enough pressure to reveal the cracks in a candidate’s persona, and how Trump has reacted to media scrutiny says a lot about the man.