The growing list of mainstream American news organizations that candidate Donald Trump is trying to block from covering his campaign events grew by a big one. Trump said he is revoking media access for the Washington Post, ostensibly because he is upset over the headline on the story covering his attempt to tar President Obama with some kind of mysterious responsibility for the Orlando massacre and terrorism more broadly.
In doing so, he takes on Post editor Martin Baron (pictured), whose own reputation is riding high for his depiction as a journalism hero in the film "Spotlight" and his comments in recent years about maintaining the integrity of news reporting in the face of budget cuts and the impulses of some digital media leaders. As a media strategy for Trump, it's risky.
“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," Trump's account posted on Facebook. He later added: "The Washington Post unfortunately covers Mr. Trump very inaccurately. Today’s headline, 'Donald Trump Suggests President Obama Was Involved With Orlando Shooting' is a perfect example. We no longer feel compelled to work with a publication which has put its needs for 'clicks' above journalistic integrity."
Trump has previously made the bizarre allegation that Post coverage of him is skewed by owner Jeff Bezos. Like most politicians, Trump has no real interest in fair or accurate coverage — only positive coverage or coverage he can shape — and Trump's efforts to intimidate the news reporters who cover him go beyond anything seen recently on the national stage. At his events, he requires the reporters his campaign admits to stand together in a pen then he frequently uses them as a prop to rally his crowds, pointing to the pen and tossing insults at the reporters.
Newspapers don't need permission to cover a campaign, only to be allowed access into non-public campaign events. Banning reporters from joining in the pen of credentialed news outlets, or traveling on the plane or bus if there is one with Trump, can backfire as a tactic to influence what they report. What's being said inside an event tends to be easily obtainable from other sources, and meanwhile the quote banned reporter now has more time to report other enterprise stories about the campaign, Trump's followers or the protesters who are also kept outside.
Post editor Baron said in a statement that of course the paper will continue to cover Trump just as before. They have nothing to apologize for.
“Donald Trump’s decision to revoke The Washington Post’s press credentials is nothing less than a repudiation of the role of a free and independent press" Baron wrote. "When coverage doesn’t correspond to what the candidate wants it to be, then a news organization is banished. The Post will continue to cover Donald Trump as it has all along – honorably, honestly, accurately, energetically, and unflinchingly. We’re proud of our coverage, and we’re going to keep at it.”
Trump and his people have previously tried to block coverage by Politico, Univision, the Des Moines Register, Buzzfeed, Gawker and several overseas publications. Politico expanded on the Trump strategy in a piece on Monday:
The bans over the months have targeted legacy organizations, broadcast news outlets and digital publications alike — and many have been in response to articles or editorials in those publications that reflect poorly upon the presidential candidate.
Earlier this month, POLITICO's Ben Schreckinger was removed from a Trump event in California, having obtained one of the tickets distributed to the public. The author of POLITICO's California Playbook, Carla Marinucci, was also asked to leave, but was allowed to stay on the condition she not speak to anyone at the event.
In July of last year, the Trump campaign denied the Des Moines Register credentials to attend a campaign event, which campaign manager Corey Lewandowski said was in retaliation for an editorial that ran in the publication several days prior. Register reporters remained banned from campaign events through the Iowa caucuses.
Likewise, The New Hampshire Union Leader found itself blocked from campaign events apparently in response to critical editorials about the candidate. The Union-Leader was also removed as a co-sponsor of the New Hampshire GOP primary debate that aired on ABC.
The Huffington Post’s senior political reporter, Scott Conroy, and reporter Samantha-Jo Roth said that Trump’s campaign denied them credentials last summer, around the same time that the Huffington Post relegated Trump coverage to its entertainment vertical. (Several months ago a source at Huffington Post told POLITICO that reporters “haven’t asked for credentials for a while,” it seeming pointless to bother.)
Kathleen Carroll, the executive editor of Associated Press, told Politico Media, "This is a race for the most powerful position on the planet. The public is interested in what the candidates do and say and having independent coverage is part of what keeps the public informed. The founders who crafted the U.S. Constitution may very well have disliked some of the stories written about them, but they enshrined the right to a free press in the First Amendment anyway."
LA Times columnist Doyle McManus wrote over the weekend that it looks to him as if reporters have finally figured out how to cover Trump, whose speeches and comments are regularly filled with untruths and factual errors, beyond what other politicians attempt or could get away with. From McManus:
Trump didn’t get a pass on every occasion. CNN’s Jake Tapper has been tough on him for months; Fox News’ Chris Wallace tried to police his whoppers, too. But some interviewers allowed the candidate’s most outlandish assertions to float by without challenge. Networks often allowed him to phone in, a privilege granted few other mortals.
Since he has all but secured the nomination, though, Trump has encountered tougher treatment.
A news conference about his contributions to veterans’ organizations (most of which arrived only after the Washington Post asked) turned into a shouting match, with Trump calling reporters “sleazy.” His attacks on a Mexican American judge overseeing lawsuits against the defunct Trump University have earned him weeks of tough coverage.
Television interviewers, instead of allowing the candidate to skitter from one subject to another, are now pressing him more relentlessly. On June 5 on CBS’ “Face the Nation,” John Dickerson asked Trump five times to explain his claim that he opposed the 2010 U.S. intervention in Libya (in fact, he supported it). “I was for doing something,” Trump admitted weakly, “but it wasn’t what you have right now.” On CNN’s “State of the Union,” Tapper pressed Trump 23 times to explain his objection to Judge Gonzalo Curiel. “He’s of Mexican heritage,” Trump finally said. “I think that’s why he’s doing it.” (“He’s not from Mexico, he’s from Indiana,” Tapper noted.)
And in its regular news programs, CNN instituted an overdue practice: correcting falsehoods in the “chyron,” the text on the bottom of the screen. “Trump: I never said Japan should have nukes (he did),” the pioneering chyron said.