NYT Likes Tradition – When It Aids Them

The New York Times is all aflutter that the Trump administration might deny access to the media. Imagine – he might object to their attempts to malign, misquote and destroy him!

This just won’t do, they write.

With the naming of Sean Spicer as White House press secretary, Donald J. Trump has selected a Republican Party insider and communications veteran.

But that doesn’t mean it will be business as usual for the press corps that covers the next administration.

Mr. Trump’s unconventional, sometimes hostile, relationship with the news media and his penchant for communicating through unfiltered Twitter posts threaten to upend a decades-old Washington tradition that relies almost entirely on protocol. The result, reporters and editors say, could be a loss of transparency that would hinder the press’s role as a conduit for information to the people.

Yes, the Times is so concerned about transparency. Remember how they kept on top of Obama? How they questioned Hillary on her emails? No? That’s because they didn’t give anything but a quick glance at topics unflattering to their Democrat masters.

They are shocked to find that:

But Mr. Trump’s advisers, and even some former White House press secretaries, say that some of the conventions of White House coverage are outdated and due for a face-lift.

In a radio interview this month, Reince Priebus, the incoming White House chief of staff, suggested that traditions including the daily televised press briefings and seating assignments could change.

“I think it’s time to revisit a lot of these things that have been done in the White House, and I can assure you that change is going to happen, even on things that might seem boring like this topic,” he told the radio host Hugh Hewitt.

Mr. Spicer, in an interview with Fox News on Thursday night, said the new regime wanted to be “innovative, entrepreneurial” about its media operations. While he said he believed there would be daily briefings, he suggested the format could change, perhaps by adding new elements, eliminating some television coverage and bringing “more people into the process.”

It’s at this point that it is interesting to substitute their objections to Trump’s plans with the electoral college. Insert electoral college in their objection to tradition and see how that plays:

All this has stirred concern among journalists who say seemingly small changes to the system could lead to the diminishing of other traditions.

“Beginning to suggest the daily briefings shouldn’t happen every day in the format that they are, I think, begins to establish a slippery slope,” said Scott Wilson, the national editor for The Washington Post, who was a White House correspondent during the Obama presidency. “There is value in having a formal setting where the administration’s position is stated and can be referred to and can be archived.”

Since his election, Mr. Trump has shown few reservations about ignoring the norms of presidential media coverage. He has defied convention by refusing to allow journalists to travel with him on his plane — including on his flight to the White House for his first meeting with President Obama.

In a highly publicized incident in mid-November, he left Trump Tower for dinner with his family without telling the reporters assigned to cover his whereabouts, sending the reporters scrambling for information. And while Mr. Trump has granted some interviews, including with The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal, he also has not held a news conference since late July, preferring instead to use Twitter as his megaphone.

The protocols that underpin the relationship between the news media and the president might seem arcane to many Americans. But press advocates say these traditions, even in the age of Twitter, ensure fundamental tenets of democracy: historical record and access to information.

“The American people deserve to have someone stand up and be accountable for the work of the president and the White House every day,” said Mike McCurry, who served as press secretary for President Bill Clinton in the mid-1990s. “I think any White House needs to explain its position and reasoning in more than 140 characters.”

Many journalists also said that the new administration should retain the so-called protective pool — a group of journalists that travels with the president whenever he goes outside the White House, and through which he can communicate with the public during an emergency or crisis.

“We’re not asking to be at his dinner table with him,” said Jeff Mason, the president of the White House Correspondents’ Association, which coordinates the pool. “We just want to be nearby in case something happens.”

But there is acknowledgment on both sides of the lectern that some re-examination of the system is warranted, especially at a time when news organizations, which must pay their way to follow the president, are increasingly hamstrung by budget constraints.

“The question really should be, why do you need a protective pool when everybody has cellphones?” said Marlin Fitzwater, who was the press secretary under Presidents Ronald Reagan and George Bush. “When you have a president who can operate a tweet and reach 28 million people from the driveway of any building in America, you don’t really need 14 people sitting there and watching him all night long.” (Mr. Trump’s Twitter account, @realDonaldTrump, has about 18 million followers.)

Mr. Mason said that, since the election, the correspondents’ association and Mr. Trump’s team had “made a lot of progress in forming a protective pool” and that he was confident Mr. Trump would allow reporters to accompany him on Air Force One once he became president.

Mr. Trump’s team has floated the possibility of other changes as well. In his radio interview, Mr. Priebus hinted that the Trump administration might assume control of the seating assignments in the briefing room. The correspondents’ association has decided seating assignments since 1981, in large part because administrations of both parties did not want even the appearance of favoritism in determining press access.

Mr. Priebus’s remarks prompted concern that the new administration would try to usurp some of the association’s control.

Still, many said some kind of seating reform was appropriate.

Mr. McCurry and Ari Fleischer, who served as press secretary under George W. Bush, said they had discussed a setup that would allow a revolving group of journalists into the briefing room rather than reserving seats only for the existing White House press corps. Foreign journalists could attend on Wednesdays, for example, while alternative online media outlets such as Breitbart News and Think Progress could rotate in on Thursdays.

Breitbart — the hard-right website whose former chairman, Stephen K. Bannon, was named Mr. Trump’s chief strategist — is already part of Mr. Trump’s transition pool. The organization’s presence has raised some eyebrows, particularly in liberal media circles, because of its connection to Mr. Bannon. But members of the pools said they did not see it as an issue and pointed out that other partisan news outlets, like the left-leaning Huffington Post, were part of the pool.

Some former press secretaries suggested that Mr. Trump’s administration should rethink the tradition of broadcasting press briefings on live television, which many say has led to posturing and performance.

Mr. McCurry, who introduced the tradition, said the live format had turned the daily briefings “into an alternative to the daytime soap operas.”

“It was not a mistake to allow broadcast media to record the daily press briefing, but I should have put some restrictions and rules on it,” he said.

Funny how enamored of the rules journalists are, except when it is applied to you and me and the electoral college.

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