This Is War
The Trump administration today took a drastic and alarming new tack when it barred CNN, The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, and several other major media outlets, with which Trump is openly hostile, from attending a White House press briefing.
Trump is clearly escalating: first, he complained about his media coverage; then he called it “Fake News”; then he said the media are the “opposition party,” and after that, called them “the enemy of the people.” Each time, the language got more and more extreme, but now Trump crossed a line that could arguably be called one of several red flags demonstrating true dictatorial behavior. You do not ban major news organizations from White House briefings.
One problem in expressing this action is that the terms have been overused and have lost much of their relevance; “war with the media,” “fascist,” “dictator”—we have used these words perhaps too much before Trump crossed into actions which are truly vital warning signs. The difference is this: before, Trump’s war with the media was only words; now, he has taken dramatic actions against specific news outlets.
This clearly crosses the line of what is acceptable. The news media is a sacred institution in this country; no matter what you think of them, no matter how much you complain, no matter how much you feel they are corrupt themselves, you must never cross the line by picking and choosing only the outlets you prefer in granting coverage. Trump has often sounded like a dictator before—threatening to jail the opposition candidate, undermining the legitimacy of elections, attacking judges who rule against him—but all of these were just words, and Trump is a well-known windbag when it comes to promoting himself and attacking anyone who crosses him.
With the press ban, however, he has crossed from words to action. And that is a line too far.
What Trump is doing goes beyond a simple attack on those specific outlets; he is sending a clear message to all media outlets: if I don’t like you, you will be shut out. In short, press intimidation, an attempt to silence media critics, and a clear violation of the spirit, if not the letter, of the First Amendment of the constitution.
That is unprecedented in modern times; no other president in living memory has barred major news outlets from White House briefings. When Fox News was calling Obama “unhinged,” a communist, psychoanalyzed him as having a “victim mentality,” called him “Osama” while joking about his assassination, and said he was “obsessed with Fox News,” Obama nevertheless never once banned Fox News from any briefings—and in fact, appeared on their network on multiple occasions to give exclusive interviews—despite being treated with aggressive disrespect when he did so. Fox was far more aggressive against Obama, and in ways far less justifiable than many media outlets’ treatment of Trump.
Unsurprisingly, Fox News’s current top headline regarding Trump and the media is in support of Trump, calling him the equal of Reagan in that both were attacked by the media, calling out several of the organizations that were barred from the media event. Most other news outlets, however, are harshly critical of Trump’s new course of action.
The real question now is, how far will this go? Will Trump step back, claiming it was a one-time thing, and allow everyone back in next time? Will he allow only some back in? Will he continue the current ban, or even expand it and make it a regular practice?
One indicator suggests that things will get worse: Trump’s war with the media, as I pointed out above, is a study in escalation. If past behavior is any guide, Trump will only get worse over time. And current behavior is not much comfort, either, as Trump is now exposed as trying to enlist the FBI to lie about an investigation into possible Russian interference in Trump’s election.
Even if he backs off, however, he has already gone too far. While probably not an impeachable action, this rises to a level of alarm beyond other actions which could be impeachable.