By Jason Chen
White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer recently banned certain news organizations from attending a briefing–a move that has stoked fears of media repression. The news organizations banned include CNN, New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Buzzfeed News, Politico, BBC, and Guardian–which have all noticeably been critics of the Trump Administration. Interestingly, a number of pro-Trump, conservative organizations have gained increased access to White House Press briefings, such as Breitbart News, Washington Times, One America News Network, and Fox News.
This newspaper favoritism sets a dangerous precedent for the remainder of this presidency and is a direct threat to America’s coveted freedom of press, which is guaranteed by the First Amendment. This country was founded on the idea of free speech, especially after the colonies spent so much of their history fighting British regulation, and oftentimes repression, of newspapers.
The American idea of free press stemmed from a time when criticism of the government was considered a crime, and the Trump Administration’s actions echo the restrictions of that critical time period. Freedom of speech and press form the pillars of American civil liberties, and should not be allowed to be stepped over to preserve the already-negative reputation and ego of President Trump.
The viewpoint discrimination that the current administration intends to impose is therefore not just unethical, but also a direct violation of free speech. It reveals an explicit bias from the White House towards publications that speak favorably of the President and incentivizes sycophantic media behavior.
The fact is that no president can escape media criticism, and Trump is no exception to this rule. Clinton was a frequent target of the media, especially as news of his scandalous affair with Monica Lewinsky came to light. But not then–not even during Nixon’s infamous Watergate Scandal and his impending impeachment–were any newspapers banned from covering or investigating.
It is vital that newspaper publications have unfettered access to unclassified information, especially when it concerns the well-being of the public. The Trump Administration’s informal censorship of specific newspapers seems more like a retaliation tactic against widespread unfavorable criticism of the president. It is a distraction from the real issues that Trump is dealing with, such as his executive order on immigration–widely considered to be a “Muslim ban.”
This White House press ban is almost a gag order on newspapers–an order that would otherwise be considered unconstitutional if carried out more officially. If the Executive had gone any further in this media ban, it could probably have been classified as prior restraint-the judicial suppression of any material from publication–a violation of the First Amendment.
White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer went on record to say that the exclusion of certain newspapers was not intended to block critical newspapers, but was instead supposed to ensure that Trump’s CPAC(Conservative Political Action Conference) speech was not “crowded out” that same day. However, this does not really justify why many more obscure conservative newspapers were allowed to attend the press conference while more established and known, but more critical, newspapers denied access to the briefing.
In general, the White House seems to isolate its President from media criticism while boosting newspapers that prop him up. This fosters a hostile media atmosphere that, if it continues, will eventually resemble the repression of free speech that the Founding Fathers fought so hard against.