Nothing to see here — Trump’s media blackout is a danger for democracy
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As it stands today, the Supreme Court — with its famous ban on broadcast media — is our least transparent government institution.

But with its decision to turn off the cameras for some of its daily press briefings, the White House is quickly gaining ground.

Why would the Trump administration do this?

Even if it canceled the daily briefing, the press corps would have plenty to report on, both inside and outside of the briefing room.

Just like at the Supreme Court, it’s about control.

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Since inauguration, President Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpFive takeaways from Trump-Biden debate clash The Memo: Debate or debacle? Democrats rip Trump for not condemning white supremacists, Proud Boys at debate MORE’s administration has failed to control its message for more than a few hours at a time, so instead of working overtime to get things moving in the right direction, the White House has tamped down on access.

 

They are more than pleased that regular Americans — via our representatives in the press — are unable to openly ask Sean Spicer or Sarah Huckabee Sanders the tough questions on camera whose answers, seemingly every day, make news.

The administration has proposed allowing audio instead of video at their briefings, but that’s no compromise, as the White House may want to spin it.

As someone who used to work in TV news, I can tell you — and the White House communications office well knows — that a lack of video will discourage news producers from airing any part of the briefing, choosing instead to air the stories that have video.

“Something to hear here” has the same impact as “nothing to see here,” and the American people will again lose out.

As famed intellectual Marshall McLuhan said, the medium is the message, and the message the White House is sending to the press corps — and, by extension, to the American people — is that we do not trust the men and women who are charged with reporting on this administration to do so in a way that fits our narrative.

So you can kiss your access goodbye.

The Supreme Court, to its credit, does not shy away from the more insidious aspects of its broadcast ban.

While the Trump administration thinks the public and press are too persnickety to be allowed in, the justices are not shy in professing their belief that public is too dumb to understand their primary public exercises, oral argument in the 70 or so cases it hears each year.

If there were cameras in the courtroom, the late Justice Antonin Scalia told C-SPAN in 2012, the American people would see “that we’re usually dealing with […] all sorts of dull stuff that only a lawyer could understand.”

(Disclosure: Though I run an organization dedicated to opening up the federal courts, I’m not a lawyer, and it’s not so difficult to understand oral arguments, especially if you’ve read the SCOTUS blog preview.)

Justice Stephen Breyer said earlier this month his reluctance in supporting cameras is due to the fact that, while questioning attorneys during arguments, he says “some particularly ridiculous things from time to time […] and I don’t want to watch what I say.” (Yet most everyone understands that court cases are full of the hypotheticals.)

Speaking hypothetically, what then should be the White House press corps’ reaction to the lack of respect the Trump administration is giving them?

The only response I see that makes sense to the media blackout is a media walkout.

Already last month the White House Correspondents Association said it would “object to any move” that would obscure the briefings from the “full view of our republic’s citizens.”

Now is the time to back those words with action. Don’t send in the interns, as some have suggested. No Jim Acosta.

No Major Garrett.

No Chuck Todd.

Walkout.

We may not be able to see the empty seats due to the cameras being off, but knowing that many of our country’s leading journalists were taking a stand against the third-world tactics of an administration adrift would give the fourth estate a principled — and much-needed — win against an administration prone to puerile attempts at discrediting all disinterested parties.

Maybe this action would inspire those who cover the Supreme Court to walk out of the courtroom on the first Monday in October when the justices reconvene – again without cameras – to hear cases.

What a courtroom sketch that would make.

Gabe Roth is executive director of Fix the Court, a national nonprofit that advocates for a more open and accountable federal courts system.


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