The New York Times Is Not Invited

Among the expectations of the Trump regime is that it would disrupt politics as usual, whether because it didn’t know traditions, understand how they developed and why they existed, or as a deliberate means of changing the usual mechanisms of Washington to break free of a cycle of failure. But this?

No one expected the White House Press Secretary to send the New York Times, CNN and others packing.

It’s tempting to take Friday’s petty decision by the Trump White House to bar certain news organizations from a briefing — something no administration of either party has ever done — as a backhanded compliment to the reporters whose honest work provoked the president’s latest foot-stamping tantrum.

There’s certainly a whiff of self-righteousness in there, that they were barred because they were too honest about an administration that wanted a press corp that would only do its bidding, blindly accept its word and spew it out unchallenged.

But for this rationale to work, it required that those news media who weren’t kicked out fit the rationale. The TV networks? The AP*? The Washington Post? They’re not Breitbart. Yet they weren’t banned.

It is certainly that. And in itself it is no huge blow to the republic. Sean Spicer, the White House press secretary, chose to bar The New York Times, CNN, Politico, Buzzfeed News and The Los Angeles Times, but other trustworthy news organizations were nevertheless in the room, and they can be relied upon to accurately report what they learned.

That’s an odd, and motley crüe, Having watched the New York Times coverage far more closely than the others, the reporting has been . . . disappointing. On the one hand, it obsesses over the every move of the Trump administration, not because it’s necessarily newsworthy, but because it offers an opportunity to be critical. And its reporting and editorial content are nearly identical; it has been substantially biased. Sometimes, wildly disingenuous.

Often, it omits, twists or distorts information to achieve a clear purpose of challenging Trump’s every move as ranging from horrifyingly evil to the worst thing ever. Some would argue that Trump deserves no less, but that’s not the point. Give the facts, explain them in a fair and balanced way and let readers draw their own conclusions. But that’s not how advocacy journalism works, and it’s the duty of a journalist today to tell readers who to love and hate. It doesn’t make the New York Times wrong in its conclusions, necessarily, but it does make their coverage facially biased.

Yet, the idea of locking out the New York Times, the paper of record, is beyond the pale. But why is that? The White House Press Corps decided who was worthy of a seat in the press room. It’s a self-selected group. It’s not government. It has no actual authority. It’s there because it somehow arose organically, and is now in charge of deciding who’s worthy of being a part of the club.

The Constitution doesn’t define journalists. It granted them no special rights. The First Amendment includes “the press” as part of its list of rights that cannot be abridged, but what that means has never been entirely clear. Is the press a mechanical device, the means of dissemination of information and opinion, or an occupation, businesses, people who call themselves journalists?

While journalists don’t want you to think of it this way, they’re just people who say “journalist” when asked what they do at cocktail parties. Some have good jobs with businesses engaged in what we popularly understand to be the news media. Some wish they did. If they lose their jobs, they may still claim to be journalists forever, even if their primary employment duty is to ask if you would like fries with that burger.

There is no license to be a journalist. There is a code of ethics, but it’s not a real code. If it was, there would be the potential to lose their journalism license for violating it. Since they have no license, nor test for entry, nor educational requirements, the code of ethics is merely aspirational.

So what makes the New York Times more of a “legitimate” news media than, say, SJ? Well, sure, but aside from readers, money, acceptance and history. The point is that it’s a private, for-profit, enterprise engaged in the dissemination of information and opinion. That describes a lot of businesses who don’t get a seat in the White House press room. Does the Times own that seat? Is it an entitlement? By what right? Says who?

The law recognizes the existence of the Fourth Estate in such decisions as New York Times v. Sullivan, but it glosses over the question of what actually distinguishes the legitimate press as unnecessary to the decision. It’s merely assumed to exist, and whatever it is, the New York Times is it.

There is a lot we take for granted as simply being the way things are, the way things have always been. We don’t look too hard behind the curtain, both because there’s no real reason to question such things and, even if we did, we wouldn’t find a satisfying answer that made better sense than things organically happened that way.

There is no one who would seriously question whether the New York Times is one of the pre-eminent newspapers in the United States, even if it’s grown a bit too full of itself and thinks it no longer need worry about such pedestrian details as accuracy, completeness, deep thought and balance.

That the New York Times, plus some of the others who were allowed to join the WHPC club for reasons that aren’t clear, has been barred from presidential press conferences is, without question, shocking and, well, bizarre. It may have no legal right to be there, no entitlement to a seat in the room, but we nonetheless accept it as the real deal, the legitimate news media.

That First Amendment can be inconvenient for anyone longing for power without scrutiny. Mr. Trump might want to brush up on what it means, and get used to it.

By barring it from the room, the Trump administration has changed a norm, if not a law, that we took for granted. It tells us that he is either too petty or clueless to appreciate what he’s doing. On the other hand, the New York Times might want to brush up on the First Amendment as well. It’s not that special that it gets to wrap itself in “free press” while using its barrels of ink to spew advocacy masquerading as news.

*The AP and Time magazine took the principled stance and refused to attend, even though they weren’t barred.

17 thoughts on “The New York Times Is Not Invited

  1. John Hawkinson

    The Washington Post is not a good example. While they were not explicitly excluded, they were also not present. My understanding is no WaPo reporter was at the White House that day. Presumably they did not ask to part of the gaggle, so we do not know whether the White House press office would have included them on the admission list.

  2. Peter E. Brownback III

    Mr. Greenfield,

    Reference: “*The AP and Time magazine took the principled stance and refused to attend, even though they weren’t barred.” What principle(s) were they standing for? Not giving proper service to their readers? If Senator Merde calls Clark Kent from Time magazine and offers him video of X (fill in name or position of choice) committing felonious mopery, will Clark refuse to report the scoop unless every other journalist gets it at the same time.

    Further, why do AP and Time get to say who/what is a journalist? Will they refuse to attend briefings when ScotusBlog, Salon, Lawyers, Guns, and Money, and Ken White are not present?

    Peter E. Brownback III

    1. SHG Post author

      Since most of the issues raised in your comment were raised and discussed in the post (did you read the post? You really should before writing a comment), there’s no reason to reiterate. But your question, “what principle(s) were they standing for” is rather shocking. I frankly didn’t think this wouldn’t be so utterly obvious to any reader, no matter what, that it required explanation. The principle was acquiescing in the administration picking who, among the ranks of the WHPC, would be allowed in. This wasn’t hard to figure out.

  3. Charles

    “It’s tempting to take Friday’s petty decision by the Trump White House to bar certain news organizations from a briefing — something no administration of either party has ever done — as a backhanded compliment to the reporters whose honest work provoked the president’s latest foot-stamping tantrum.”

    As reported by NPR, in an October 23, 2009 email, Josh Earnest of the Obama administration stated: “We’ve demonstrated our willingness and ability to exclude Fox News from significant interviews…” Must have been because of their “honest work”. Who knew.

    [Link for reference only: http://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2011/07/16/138168227/new-emails-shed-light-on-2009-fox-white-house-spat%5D

  4. DaveL

    Unfortunately, the phenomenon of “play nice or lose access” has been the norm in mainstream journalism for many years now. The New York Times itself ran an article back in 2012 about how politicians of all stripes were now insisting on veto power over all quoted material as a condition for granting interviews. The major difference is that, back then, they were comfortable with playing ball, now they’re not.

  5. John Barleycorn

    Speaking of standard practice….

    If James Brady would have made playing with Legos
    to demonstrate his various points while giving press briefings, back in the day, none of this would be an issue.

  6. B. McLeod

    Many long years ago, I sat through a few university “Journalism” classes. One of the topics covered was the risk of losing access to public figures who believe their media treatment has been unfair. What has happened here is a textbook illustration of the world of “Journalism” from the time when “journalists” knew they weren’t gods and didn’t have special privileges.

      1. B. McLeod

        They probably teach the living Constitution in the “Journalism” classes of today. If there even are such classes.

        The thing is, in this day of uncontrollable leaks and instant Internet reporting of everything by anyone and everyone, “access” doesn’t mean what it used to. The concept of a “scoop” or “exclusive” doesn’t count for much anymore. This comes down to mere posturing by Trump.

        1. Billy Bob

          The living Constituition was a great idea in its day, its hayday. Unfortunately, they [the Founders] neglected to include the word “living” in the text. Big Mistake. If it’s not in the text, well then you cannot ask for it in rebuttal or appeal. Or did we get it backwards?

          Finally, we don’t don’t give at hoot about Trump’s “posturing”. We do care about Melania’s posture, or lack thereof. Recent pics show her to be somewhat remorse. She is no Jacqueline, not yet. If you were married to the Orange Man, wouldn’t you be? Actually, she could be a stand-in for Sophia [Loren], no?

  7. Amy Beckett (Please only print ALB)

    Two disparate thoughts:
    1. there is nothing inherently wrong with “advocacy journalism.” This has been British model for two centuries. No pretense of objectivity–so a reader could adjust for the slant when one picked up the Independent, the Guardian, or the Times. The problem with the U.S. model is the pretense of objectivity. We certainly knew where the Christian Science Monitor (RIP) was coming from, as with the National Catholic Reporter. And always the Wall Street Journal.
    2. Your sweeping denunciations of the NYTimes (“substantially biased. Sometimes, wildly disingenuous.” ) would benefit from ah-evidence. I have an example–the Feb. 3rd hit job on Andrew Puzder. I am the last person you would have expected to defend him or his nomination, but I was appalled by this Mafia-baiting, guilt-by-association smear. [Ed. Note: Link deleted per rules.]

    1. SHG Post author

      Had you been a regular reader here, you would be aware of the wealth of evidence. Just because you’re new here and don’t know any better doesn’t mean the evidence isn’t here and overwhelming. Snarky doesn’t work as well when you’re the idiot in the room.

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