After the White House prohibited news organizations like The New York Times, CNN and Politico from joining Friday’s press briefing, Metro asked Patrick J. Egan (PJE), an associate professor of political science at NYU andHeath Brown (HB), an assistant professor of public policy at John Jay College and CUNYGraduate Center, to break it down for us.
Is it constitutional for the White House to ban certain credentialed news outlets from a briefing?
PJE: By long-established norms and tradition, reporters from all of the country’s leading news organizations are permitted to attend White House press briefings. This has been true in both Democratic and Republican administrations for as long as anyone can remember.
HB: I’m not a constitutional scholar, so I don’t have a well-formed opinion about this. I suspect that an on-going ban would skirt the Constitution, but I don’t think the Constitution guarantees any specific news outlet a briefing.
To your knowledge, has this ever been done before?
PJE:Today’s ban by the Trump administration on reporters from the New York Times and CNN is an unprecedented violation of that tradition.It is a direct retaliation for what the White House perceives to be unfair coverage by these news outlets.
HB: I haven’t heard of an example of this before though presidents likely have always had favored or especially close relationships with some journalists over others.
Is calling the press an “enemy of the people” just rhetoric or is it more dangerous than that?
HB: It may be a bit of both. Rhetoric can be dangerous, especially when it leads to outcomes that are threatening to democratic institutions. The bully pulpit powers of the presidency are quite expansive and can be used to influence public opinion on any number of things. Using the power of the presidency to undermine trust in the press does seem like a dangerous thing, especially if you believe a free and independent media is integral to the democracy.
Many online are saying that the president shouldn’t refuse to communicate with news outlets that disagree with him. What is your opinion?
PJE:The ban sends a chilling signal about how the Trump administration views the role of a free press in a democracy.It reveals that the White House clearly feels the need to play favorites and limit the scrutiny it faces from professional journalists.
HB: I think that the president would be wise to communicate with as many news outlets as he is able. More information about what the White House is planning to do is healthy for the democracy and for the amount of information citizens have about this most important position in government.
PJE:Regardless of their political views, all Americans should be very concerned by this very troubling development.
HB: Never before has there been a clearer need for more students to consider going into politics and political journalism. The democracy will be sustained during this period if younger people are brought into the political process rather than turned away. More opportunities, not fewer, should be provided for access to the White House, access to the president, including opportunities for younger people to meet and engage with the president on the issues they care about.