In a post on the Editor’s Blog of Talking Points Memo, Josh Marshall wrote a piece entitled “The Case for Not Being Crybabies,” which begins with the Trump/Acosta confrontation and flowers from there:
There’s nothing more undignified and enervating than fretting about whether the President-Elect will brand real news ‘fake news’ or worrying whether his more authoritarian supporters can be convinced to believe – pleaded with, instructed to, prevailed upon – actual factual information. The answer to attacks on journalism is always more journalism. And the truth is that Trump’s threats are cheap stunts and bluffs, threatening to take away things journalists don’t need.
That’t the final paragraph, and the “things journalists don’t need” is a reference to Trump’s threat of expel the White House press corps from the White House. About that Marshall says:
We know Trump’s MO. He will bully people until they’re cowed and humiliated and obedient. He’ll threaten to kick the reporters out of the White House and then either cut a ‘deal’ or make some big to-do about ‘allowing’ the reporters to stay. These are all threats and mind games meant not so much to cow the press as make them think Trump is continually taking things away from them and that they need to make him stop.
They don’t need to. That access isn’t necessary to do their jobs. And bargaining over baubles of access which are of little consequence is not compatible with doing their job. Access can provide insight and understanding. But it’s almost never where the good stuff comes from. Journalists unearth factual information and report it. If Trump wants to turn America into strong man state, journalists should cover that story rather than begging Trump not to be who he is.
I’m not in the media and never will be, so though I’m not afraid to criticize blatant displays of bullshit both-siderism, language manipulation, historical distortions, and straight-up lies, I’m less keen to offer any sort of solution for honest journalists who see Trump as a threat to the free press or their access to information, so I more or less trust Marshall’s assessment and relative cool-headedness in his post.
My only comment, then, is about two points Marshall didn’t make (or hardly anyone, far as I know). At the press conference in which Trump refused to take CNN’s Jim Acosta’s question, two things happened.
1. It seems none of the other professional journalists in that room seemed to know what to do when Trump went after Acosta the way he did. Everything that happened happened in response. Again, I don’t know what kind of strategy journalists need to develop, but it’s bad for all of us if journalists from competing newspapers and broadcasters don’t bother to stand up for each other in the heat of the moment.
2. Trump went directly on to answer a question from Breitbart. I have to imagine it annoys the hell out of everyone else there that creeps from Breitbart—or Infowars, or wherever—are given press credentials. We can all sit around and cluck at each other about how we think major news outlets (like The New York Times or ABC) are in themselves more subtle propaganda arms, but they are far and away the best we have, whereas outlets like Breitbart and Infowars have filtered reality through a very specific ideological scope which works backwards from a preconceived conclusion to mold whatever happens to fit into the narrative of their worldview. It’s pathetic that they get to enter the room in the first place.
Marshall’s right in this case. The extent to which people in the media glom onto any trivial hint that Trump might not be the authoritarian monster his words and behavior otherwise suggest is ridiculous. Any threat to the media is an issue the media has to deal with first. Rallies and protests are nice, but my own opinion on those is that they might be good at generating passion and attracting attention, but unless that energy gets funneled into channels of power their continuance has increasingly diminished returns. Media figures have to save themselves. If there’s reticence about calling out Trump’s lies as lies, that’s a problem within the media.
Regular schmoes like me don’t have any access to real power. I can’t interview the president, or a senator, or a House member, or even one of their surrogates. I can write a letter or make a phone call, to which I get the response that my concern has been duly noted. So those in the media who do have access to power have to ask themselves whether they’ve been squandering it.