President Donald Trump’s administration team kicked the media beehive once again on Friday, Feb. 24, during an informal press briefing called a press gaggle. Several news outlets, including CNN, the New York Times and the Guardian were denied entry to the briefing, but others, such as Fox News, Breitbart and the Washington Times, were allowed to attend. CNN and the New York Times cried foul over the move, as it appeared that they and the other outlets that were denied entry had been targeted by the Trump administration in retaliation for their unfavorable coverage of Trump. White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer denied that the White House was playing favorites with the media or excluding any outlets, but that didn’t stop many news organizations and the White House Correspondents Association (WHCA) from condemning the way the White House conducted the gaggle.
Given Trump’s disdain for CNN and the New York Times, both of which he has called “fake news,” (among others) it’s not surprising that many would come to the conclusion that the press gaggle was intentional discrimination against outlets that don’t favor Trump. Indeed, Trump shouldn’t favor or target any reputable news outlet, regardless of the coverage they give him, as long as the coverage is accurate. Those who are criticizing the White House staff for later denying entry to some news outlets are justified in arguing for the media to have greater access to the White House. The Trump administration ought to enable as many media outlets as possible to cover each of its events, no matter how minor, even if that means that outlets with extreme, blatant bias for or against Trump will get increased access as well. Enabling a large variety of outlets to cover the presidency would give the public a wide variety of news outlets to choose from, and make it easier to separate facts from bias and identify actual fake news.
In this particular situation, we shouldn’t be quick to call this an attack by the Trump administration on the media. Trump has also accused ABC, CBS and NBC News of being fake news, yet all three of those outlets were invited to attend the press gaggle. Why would they have been invited if the press gaggle was exclusionary against news outlets that Trump considers untrustworthy due to their bias against him? During an interview with Fox News on Sunday, Feb. 26, Spicer maintained that the attendance at the gaggle was the result of the WHCA putting together the press pool for that day, which the White House expanded in order to allow more reporters to attend. This would imply that the “excluded” outlets simply hadn’t been chosen by the WHCA or during the expansion process for that day, not that they were singled out.
Still, those outlets who had been brought in as part of the expansion were “handpicked,” according to the Boston Globe. Normally, the expanded press gaggles aren’t invite-only. We can’t say for certain that any one news outlet had been deliberately excluded or favored for this event. However, this process of selective invitation for press briefings could theoretically be abused to keep unfavorable reporters away from later events, so there is some validity in scrutinizing the way the White House handled this press gaggle.
In any case, the inclusion of ABC, CBS and NBC News at this so-called “exclusive” press gaggle is exactly what the Trump administration should be doing. Those networks aren’t exactly favorable toward Trump, and yet they were able to cover the gaggle, just as Breitbart and the Washington Times, two outlets that are far friendlier toward Trump, were able to. No single media source, whether liberal, centrist or conservative, should have a monopoly on truth. No source is without bias, so in order to make sure that the public is able to discern fact from bias, there needs to be a wide variety of reputable news sources available. The best way of stamping out misinformation, faulty reporting and other forms of fake news is to foster an environment in which accurate, factual reporting is widely available to discredit that fake news.
The media is vastly overreacting to this press gaggle, but they are correct in principle when they declare the need for the media to have access to the White House in order to report on governmental issues. Trump’s administration is also correct in principle when they express their desire to correct fake news and deceptive reporting. Ultimately, it will serve the American public best if the media’s responses to Trump are more measured and not merely reactionary, and if the White House commits to having as much media coverage as reasonably possible for its events, even for something as minor as a press gaggle.