It’s Time For Reporters To Break Out Of The Trump Rally Press Pens
This post originally appeared on Media Matters.
Is the only thing more shocking than Donald Trump’s campaign manager being charged with simple battery of a reporter the fact that the crime isn’t all that startling, given the bullying campaign’s open contempt for reporters?
Enough is enough.
With Trump’s top aide, Corey Lewandowski, now facing charges, focus has shifted back to the increasingly abusive relationship between the GOP front-runner and the campaign press, and the unprecedented barrage of attacks journalists have faced, including constant insults hurled at them by the candidate himself. (Reporters are “disgusting” “horrible people,” Trump regularly announces.)
Sadly, news organizations have brought some of the degradation on themselves by acquiescing to all kinds of Trump campaign demands, such as the rule that they camp out inside mandatory press pens at events. Basically, the Trump campaign disparages the media, and news organizations do nothing in response — except shower him with even more coverage. (Talk about a win-win for him.)
“For ratings and clicks, they’ve allowed themselves to be penned up like farm animals at his rallies and risked scuffles with the Secret Service for covering the events like actual reporters, ” wrote Eliana Johnson at National Review.
In fact, the press pens have become a hallmark of Trump’s war on the press.
“Unlike other presidential campaigns, which generally allow reporters and photographers to move around at events, Trump has a strict policy requiring reporters and cameramen to stay inside a gated area, which the candidate often singles out for ridicule during his speeches,” Timereported.
And Time should know.
In February, a Secret Service agent lifted Time photographer Chris Morris up off the ground and choke-slammed him onto a table after Morris momentarily “stepped out of the press pen to photograph a Black Lives Matter protest that interrupted the speech.”
It’s long past time for journalists to demand their freedom from Trump press pens. It’s like deciding to finally stop taking Trump’s phone-in interviews. Escaping from the pens represents a simple way for news organizations to assert their obvious right to cover the Trump campaign on their own terms, rather than being penned in at campaign events and living in fear of having access denied if coverage is deemed to be too critical.
Covering the Trump campaign on a daily basis today appears to be a rather miserable media existence. Reporters are threatened by staffers, and the Trump communications team seems to be utterly nonresponsive to media inquiries. (“There is no Trump press operation,” one reporter toldSlate.)
But it’s even worse than that. Just ask CBS News reporter Sopan Deb. In January at a Trump rally in Reno, a Trump supporter demanded to know if Deb was taking pictures on behalf of ISIS. Then, in March, after Trump’s raucous would-be rally in Chicago was canceled, Deb was covering mayhem unfolding on the streets when he was “thrown to the ground by Chicago cops, handcuffed, arrested, and detained in jail.”
I give journalists on the Trump beat credit for trying to make the best of a very bad situation. My question is why aren’t bosses standing up more forcefully for their staffers on the Trump front line? Why aren’t executives saying “enough” to the campaign bullying? And why don’t they take collective action and fix the obvious problems with how the Trump campaign is mistreating the press?
In case you missed it, last year 17 journalists representing scores of news organizations met for two hours in Washington, D.C., because they were so angry with how Hillary Clinton’s campaign was limiting access for journalists.
“The problems discussed were the campaign’s failure to provide adequate notice prior to events, the lack of a clear standard for whether fundraisers are open or closed press and the reflexive tendency to opt to speak anonymously,” The Huffington Post reported.
Looking back, the press’s Clinton complaints seem minor compared to the disrespect and invective the Trump campaign rains down on the press. But at the time, news organizations banded together and insisted that changes be made. (“The Clinton campaign is far less hostile to reporters than Donald Trump’s campaign,” The Huffington Post recently noted.)
So why the relative silence in light of the constant Trump mistreatment of the press? Why did news outlets quickly marshal their forces when Democrat Clinton was the target of criticism, but they apparently do very little when the Republican front-runner is trampling all over the press? Why the obvious double standard for covering Trump and Clinton?
Note that last November, several news organizations discussed their concerns with the Trump campaign. “Representatives from five networks — ABC, NBC, CBS, Fox and CNN — discussed their concerns about the Trump campaign restrictions on a Monday conference call, but did not present the campaign with any specific access requests,” according to The Huffington Post.
But very little came of it. “Facing the risk of losing their credentialed access to Trump’s events, the networks capitulated,” BuzzFeed reported.
Indeed, in the wake of that meeting, press pens at Trump rallies have recently become even more restrictive, with longer avenues of exit and entries created to separate journalists even further from rally attendees.
More recently, BuzzFeed reported, “Two network sources also confirmed the unprecedented control the television networks have surrendered to Trump in a series of private negotiations, allowing him to dictate specific details about placement of cameras at his event, to ensure coverage consists primarily of a single shot of his face.”
So yes, news organizations have had behind-the-scenes negotiations with the Trump campaign. But the result has been to let Trump “dictate specific details about place of cameras at his event.”
And note that it’s not just the press pens. Here’s a list of the news organizations that have had reporters banned from previous Trump events, presumably because the campaign didn’t like the news coverage: TheDes Moines Register, Fusion, TheNew York Times, BuzzFeed, Politico, The Huffington Post, National Review, The Daily Beast, and Univision.
Over and over we’ve seen this pattern play out: Report something negative about Trump and watch your press credentials get yanked. This kind of bullying, of course, is unprecedented for American presidential campaigns. The tactic goes against every principle of a free press, inhibiting the news media’s unique role in our democracy to inform the public, without fear or favor.
Yet to date, I’m not aware of outlets banding together to make concrete ultimatums in response to the Trump campaign’s bullying. Instead of collective action, we get sporadic, nonbinding complaints from editors.
But what kind of signal does that send, other than capitulation?