At President-elect Donald Trump's long-delayed press conference, his intimidation of the press was on full display when he slandered a reporter while refusing to take his question. Now, citizens are demanding that the press stand up to Trump's assault on the First Amendment.
When President-elect Donald Trump shouted down CNN reporter Jim Acosta’s question at a press conference this week, calling him and his organization “fake news,” it was an outrageous continuation of Trump’s campaign of intimidation and marginalization of a free press.
Almost as equally outrageous, though, was the reaction of Acosta’s colleagues, who eagerly allowed him to be trampled in their quest for a bite at the apple:
— Tommy Winter Olympix-topher (@tommyxtopher) January 11, 2017
That sentiment has taken on the form of a MoveOn.org petition by Media Matters’ Angelo Carusone, demanding that the White House Correspondents’ Association (WHCA) band together to stand up to Trump:
If Trump blacklists or bans one of you, the rest of you need to stand up. Instead of ignoring Trump’s bad behavior and going about your business, close ranks and stand up for journalism. Don’t keep talking about what Trump wants to talk about. Stand up and fight back. Amplify your colleague’s inquiry or refuse to engage until he removes that person/outlet from the blacklist.
In a matter of days, the petition has gathered over a quarter of a million signatures, and continues to grow. It is encouraging to see that so many recognize the stakes involved, because they are immense. Allowing this incident, and those which preceded it, to go unanswered will cause the last line of defense against tyranny to fall away. The White House press corps, warts and all, represents the American people to the administration, so while we can criticize and try to influence them, we cannot allow them to be weakened.
Russian journalist Alexey Kovalev offered a glimpse at those stakes with his dead-on and dead-scary comparison of Trump’s presser with those of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s. His description of Putin’s press conferences was eerily similar to what we witnessed from Trump this week, and Kovalev offered a bleak assessment of the chances that the press will hang together:
These people are not your partners or brothers in arms. They are your rivals in a fiercely competitive, crashing market and right now the only currency in this market is whatever that man on the stage says. Whoever is lucky to ask a question and be the first to transmit the answer to the outside world wins. Don’t expect any solidarity or support from them. If your question is stonewalled/mocked down/ignored, don’t expect a rival publication to pick up the banner and follow up on your behalf. It’s in this man’s best interests to pit you against each other, fighting over artificial scarcities like room space, mic time or, of course, his attention.
I covered the White House for six years, and while Kovalev is spot-on about the competitiveness, there is a slightly higher level of teamwork on the White House beat than others. It is rare, but reporters do sometimes yield their questions to reporters who are being iced out, and will often ask a question for a colleague who has been unable to get a response through other methods.
There were also several times when the WHCA banded together to defend access to the Obama White House, as Media Matters’ Eric Boehlert details in a piece recalling the WHCA’s touchy relationship with that far more responsive administration.
If they could raise hell when they did not get to watch President Obama shoot hoops, surely they can muster the gumption to stand together when President-elect Trump attacks one of them.
The emergence of such solidarity did not look promising at the last Trump presser, but that is why actions like this petition are so important. The personal stakes for remaining in line are high, but millions of Americans count on the free press to serve their interests, and reporters need to be reminded of that.
(This post has been updated to reflect the increased number of signatures on the petition.)