Is this the End of White House Press Briefings?

28 Feb

On Friday, January 22nd President Trump took to Twitter yet again to give reference to why his Press Secretary Sarah Sanders has been tapering off the podium. The president’s relationship with the press has always been a complicated one, but he consistently updates the public via twitter about his criticism of journalists. This time Trump accused the press (specifically a few reporters) covered her briefings ”rudely and inaccurately” and even encouraged Sanders not to bother with these events anymore because ”word gets out anyway”. The president finished the tweet by reinforcing his term “Fake News” and claiming that he will never be covered fairly.

Unfortunately, this is not new behavior from Trump’s administration. These briefings were becoming shorter and shorter as the term went on, sometimes not on camera, most of the time answered defensively, sometimes lasting less than 15 minutes. Graphs and other information on this data can be found at the American Presidency Project’s website. Sanders seems to stack up poorly next to other press secretaries including her predecessor from the Obama administration Josh Earnest. 

But the infrequency of these briefings isn’t the issue for most reporters, it’s information being withheld. The government records that were once fairly accessible in the terms of the last three presidents have a new flood gate. The purpose of these briefings is to access information straight from the administration from a reliable source. While most large news networks now have eyes and ears inside the white house, briefings are held for the smaller fish in the pond, and to give further insight into exactly how the government is operating for its public. When the press has limited information to go on, the public is also in the dark.

Olivier Knox the President and Chief Washington Correspondent said in an interview with CNN that

“When you pull that kind of information out of the public eye, you’re making the job of holding the federal government accountable more difficult,”

The president has been famous for failing to release his tax returns to the public even still, but that is only the tip of the iceberg. Trump has withheld a mass amount of documents on Brett Kavanaugh according to a letter to the senate judiciary committee. The administration failed to brief even Congress about meetings with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un as reported here. More instances of this behavior have been reported and more is sure to circulate as former lawyer Micheal Cohen shares details of his time working for Trump.

Holding those in power accountable is written right into the ethics policy of journalists, and for the president to not only withhold that information but to then claim the sources who do just that are “fake” is truly egregious. I feel as though it is my right not only as a journalist but as a U.S. citizen to oppose these kinds of actions openly and proudly.

Tyranny has many forms, and the more I see this administration operate the harder I believe it will be to create the kind of country this was always meant to be. It has never been a more important time to be a journalist. When those in power try to discredit the work we do, the things we see and hear, and the passion that moves us forward, the harder we must fight to keep the public informed and engaged.

This path is not an easy one, and this president will surely not be the last that tried to limit the voice of the public. Limiting press briefings and discrediting us will not stop the truth from finding its way to the public.

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