OPINION – In this business, there are big stories and there are really big stories.
The current administration is a really big story.
A really, really big story.
And, everybody wants a piece of it.
Political news stories have not been this well-read since the final days of the Richard Nixon administration when the roof caved in on an administration riddled with corruption, lies and coverups.
Where we go this time around, of course, remains to be seen.
But, wherever the trail leads, you can be sure that there will be a pack of reporters there, every step of the way in what may result in the most documented administration in United States history after the president laid out his latest, and perhaps harshest, criticism of the media.
It’s no secret that government officials and the media do not get along.
They are not supposed to, it’s the nature of the beast.
It is important for reporters to be civil, courteous, even cordial when dealing with government officials, but when it comes time to punch out a story on the keyboard, there can be no friends, regardless of similar political opinions or personal regard.
Over the years, I came to know a number of Utah politicians very well – from mayors and county commissioners to state legislators, governors, House and Senate members. I have been extremely cordial with most, enjoyed the company of a select few, yet have never allowed that to get in the way of reporting. And, as a columnist and political analyst, I consider everybody as fair game for fair comment.
Not once, regardless of how harsh the criticism may have been, have any one of them cut off access, which I applaud.
However, the recent actions of the administration give pause for alarm.
The current administration’s disdain for the media is off the charts, even when compared with the Nixon era.
In fact, it’s to the point where two long-respected news agencies – The Associated Press and Time magazine – refused to attend a press briefing last week when it was learned that CNN, The New York Times, The Hill, Politico, BuzzFeed, the Daily Mail, BBC, the Los Angeles Times and the New York Daily News had not been invited.
The White House doubled down when it was announced that the president would not attend the annual White House Correspondents’ Association gala in late April.
The president then took another swing at the media with a late-night Twitter post, saying: “FAKE NEWS media knowingly doesn’t tell the truth. A great danger to our country.”
The AP and Time made a major mistake, in my book, by refusing to cover the press briefing. I understand the solidarity with the media agencies not invited but suppose they started giving press briefings and nobody showed up? What would happen then?
Now, more than any other time, the media must be diligent in covering this administration.
If there is a press briefing, they must be there.
If there is a speech, they must be there.
If there is a state event, they must be there.
The demands of the public far outweigh personal feelings and the necessity for transparency in government never goes away, even if reporters are locked out of a briefing they would normally have access to cover.
This is dangerous, unprecedented behavior in the United States.
There have been White House-media spats in the past.
Presidents Clinton and Obama had problems with Fox News.
Nixon had problems with The New York Times, Washington Post and CBS newsman Dan Rather.
Ronald Reagan had issues with the Los Angeles Times.
George W. Bush was not fond of a reporter at The New York Times.
And, even the most media-friendly presidents have, at times, had issues with the press.
But, none has gone to the extent of this administration, which has gone so far as to call the press “the enemy of the people” and threaten to “do something about” the media.
Take your best shot, Mr. President.
Whether we are working at a community level or in the national spotlight, we stand unified in this. We will not back down from seeking truth and we will not yield an inch on our First Amendment rights.
There is no executive order you could possibly pull out of your hat; no amount of pressure will convince Congress to rescind the First Amendment; and even the most conservative Supreme Court justice will defend our right to a free and unencumbered press.
Yes, I will agree that there are a number of fake news sites operating out there.
CNN is not one of them.
The New York Times is not one of them.
Get the picture?
If not, perhaps the assessment of a reporter from one of the administration’s favorite news outlets, Shepard Smith from FOX News, may carry water: “For the record, ‘fake news’ refers to stories that are created, often by entities pretending to be news organizations, solely to draw clicks and views and are based on nothing of substance,” Smith said during his program the day of the snub. “In short, fake news is made up nonsense delivered for financial gain. CNN’s reporting was not fake news. Its journalists followed the same standards to which other news organizations, including Fox News, adhere.”
I’m not sure if the president’s position is one of ignorance, arrogance or malevolence.
But, I am sure it is unacceptable and a danger to a free society.
Ed Kociela is an opinion columnist. The opinions stated in this article are his and not representative of St. George News.
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