Picture the scene: a room full of eager folks on the edges of their seats. Eyes wide. Ears open. Waiting to heave questions – to see how hopes, plans, dreams, vendettas and more will collide and then – nothing. No pictures. No sound. Sounds like the end of “The Sopranos,” right? But I’m describing Monday’s press briefing by the White House.
In the administration’s latest peculiar take on “freedom of the press,” Team Trump decided to forbid news networks from broadcasting video and/or audio of the daily media briefing on Monday. Oh sure, press secretary Sean Spicer took some questions but allowed no one to electronically record his answers. He’s been steadily cutting back on the number, length and answers in his press briefings anyway, and he now seems to be going even deeper undercover. He defended his no cameras/no mics rule by saying President Trump had appeared on camera already that day, but there is a big difference between a photo op and a presidential press conference in which myriad, serious issues can be explored. In short, this is the leading edge of – well, if not a press blackout then a gray out.
From the White House’s perspective, I get it. President Trump made it clear before he was even elected that he likes the media only when it treats him precisely as he wishes – when it praises him, fawns over his accomplishments and blindly accepts his version of the truth. He knows his most dedicated followers love it when he bashes the media. He knows public faith in what we reporters do is extremely low. In other words, he knows he likes walloping journalists, and his fans like seeing him do it.
But you know some things too. You know this White House is being investigated over possible collusion with the Russians in the last election. You know the president is having a hard time passing any major legislation because his own party is balking at many of his ideas on tax reform, immigration policy and healthcare. You know this administration has been caught time and again making definitely false statements. You know President Trump’s approval rating among voters is stunningly low. And you know all of that because the media – for all our faults – accurately reports it.
No audio or video of press briefings? Call me a cynic, but that seems like the action of a White House that has grown tired of seeing and hearing the relentless evidence of its own problems. And refusing to let the media record what you say is the first step toward denying you ever said it.