It seems that not a day goes by without Donald Trump’s name appearing in the news. This shouldn’t be surprising given that he’s the President. But it isn’t every day a President is in the news because of a media ban.
What’s been described as a “gaggle” in Sean Spicer’s office took place “in lieu of his daily briefing,” which, on its own, might not be the strangest thing in the world. The strange thing is the different outlets that were and weren’t allowed to the gaggle. Among others, The New York Times, BBC, Politico, and CNN were denied entry to the gaggle. Turns out that not all geese are created equal. This restriction of entry came in the wake of Trump’s CPAC speech where he declared that much of the media were “enemies of the people.” Trump later went on to tweet that organisations like The New York Times and CNN are “a great danger to [the] country.”
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) 25 February 2017
It has been argued that Trump’s relationship with the media, combative at the best of times, chilling at others; from his declaration that those who write unflattering pieces write “fake news,” to this ban, show the way that Trump “and members of his inner circle are eager to use the prerogatives of the presidency to undercut those who scrutinize him, dismissing negative stories as lies and confining press access at the White House to a few chosen news organizations considered friendly.”
A media ban like this one feels chilling, like the first step away from a totally free press. As well as that, its complete hypocrisy. In the past, Sean Spicer said “we have a respect for the press when it comes to the government, that is something that you can’t ban an entity from,” before going on to say, “I think that is what makes a democracy a democracy versus a dictatorship.”
Now, to say that this gaggle immediately means that Trump’s administration is a dictator would probably be an overreaction. However, it wouldn’t be right, or even true, to not call it a step in that direction. It turns out that Sean Spicer only respects the press when it comes to the government up to the point where they disagree with his boss.
Pointing out that “a democracy relies upon the free press to scrutinise government” might seem pretty obvious, but right now it seems like it needs to be pointed out, not to the people, but to the government itself. Its right to say that Trump’s press ban “insulates [his] government from alternative opinions,” and of course, it is wrong of Trump’s administration to ban any outlets. The decision to ban certain outlets has been called “a campaign against a constitutionally enshrined free and independent press,” by Jeffery Ballou, the president of The National Press Club.
The press ban seems to really be an escalation of what some are calling “a war between the White House and the American media,” with the first shots being Trump’s frequent declarations that those who disagree with him are “fake news,” and this latest move being another, more dangerous salvo. The question is how media outlets, particularly those banned from the gaggle, respond to it. While there have been several references to Spicer’s hypocrisy about “what makes a democracy,” it seems that none of the banned outlets have gone so far as to immediately call Trump a “dictator.” For example, the editor of the Los Angeles Times, who were also banned from the gaggle, released a statement saying that “The public has a right to know, and that means being informed by a variety of news sources, not just those filtered by the White House press office in hopes of getting friendly coverage,” before going on to say that “regardless of access, The Times will continue to report on the Trump administration without fear or favour.”
This seems like the best response to a ban like this, to continue reporting “without fear or favour,” to continue to offer coverage that isn’t cherry-picked by Sean Spicer. The best way to fight back against this press ban, and the troubling implications it has towards the freedom of the press, is to keep exercising that freedom. The freedom to write about, challenge, and criticise a government, especially when that government goes out of its way to point out that it disagrees with you. And, if this “war” between Trump and the media continues, the right to criticise his government at all needs to be used while it still can.