When will liberals accept Trump's media policies and move on?
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Congress has been largely ineffective in dealing with the nation’s pressing challenges of healthcare reform, tax policy and international tensions. Unfortunately, the attention for some of our nation’s leaders has been diverted to addressing the trivial.

Such is the case for Rep. Jim Himes (D-Conn.), who has introduced legislation he is grandly calling the Free Press Act of 2017. Never mind that the First Amendment of the Constitution has already provided for a free press in the United States for more than two centuries.

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Himes’ bill would require the White House to formally hold at least two press briefings each week and further require that video recording of the briefings be allowed. In a press release from the congressman’s office, Himes points out that President Trump has “an overtly hostile attitude toward the press.”

 

He also points out that the Trump administration has had fewer press briefings than have been held by previous administrations. Himes says in the press release, “A free and independent press is essential to the survival of a functioning democracy,” and concludes, “I hope this bill helps push back on the efforts of this, or any, administration, to suppress this necessary reporting.”

Himes’ effort to force presidents to communicate is quite a leap up from what the constitutional framers felt was necessary during the nation’s infancy. There is only one place in the Constitution that requires the president to communicate and that is in Article II.

It states, “He shall from time to time give to the Congress information of the State of the Union, and recommend to their consideration such measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient.” James Madison, Benjamin Franklin, Alexander Hamilton and the other framers figured that less is more when it comes to presidential communication.

The departure of White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer and addition of Communications Director Anthony Scaramucci won’t change the anti-press mindset of the Trump administration. Those attitudes are too deeply entrenched and Trump surely believes his anti-press barrages played a role in winning the presidency.

For their part, journalists antagonistic to Trump would hardly declare détente even if Scaramucci caved to media whining and met their briefing demands — which he won’t. Instead of arguing in the minor leagues about press briefings, journalists should join the big leagues and fight for access to top officials and documents.

In spite of the Trump press office disrupting press expectations for frequency of briefings, who gets called on, and whether briefings can be electronically recorded, the press has thoroughly reported, scrutinized and criticized the White House in a way seldom seen. The free press continued to function even on days when White House spokespeople Sean Spicer or Sarah Huckabee Sanders didn’t step to the podium. The free press doesn’t need the “help” of Himes’ bill.

It is understandable that well-meaning reporters will push for as much access to the government as possible, but arguing over largely superficial press briefings is more symbolic than substantive. Lost in all the dustup about frequency of press briefings is just how valueless such events really are. No news comes out of these frenzied shouting sessions that the administration doesn’t want released. Press briefings are basically pointless political theatre. An administration that has big news to disseminate will do it in a grander venue than a briefing room.

Beyond that, a reporter who really wants a news scoop will surely not blurt out the hot question in front of a roomful of media competitors. The real reporting about any administration happens away from press briefings when real reporters do one-on-one interviews or work their sources. In other words, when reporters actually dig like reporters instead of sitting in a press briefing taking notes and waiting to be called on like in a middle school classroom.

Instead, White House reporters continue to whine about briefing room restrictions, and diminish themselves with stunts like tweeting out photos of their socks, walking out of the briefing room when the White House spokesman is speaking, and secretly streaming live audio. Such protests will gather little support from a public that is generally unsympathetic to the media.

Himes surely knows a Republican-controlled Congress is not going to pass this bill, and Trump wouldn’t sign it if it did pass. It is also unlikely the bill would pass a constitutional test in court. But just for fun, assume Scaramucci ordered more frequent, official press briefings.

Himes acknowledges White House hostility to the press and says the administration is “at war with the facts.” Forcing such forums that would generate heightened antagonism and more warped facts hardly serves the public’s interest. This could be a case of “be careful what you wish for.”

Jeffrey McCall (@Prof_McCall) is a professor of communication at DePauw University.


The views expressed by contributors are their own and are not the views of The Hill.