EDITORIAL: Press covers White House activities
Even on a day when he has legitimate reason to celebrate — as he did Wednesday with news of the release of three American detainees from North Korea — President Donald Trump cannot resist revisiting grievances.
Attorney General Michael Pompeo this week met with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un to negotiate details of a planned summit between Kim and Trump. And, as the administration had been hinting for more than a week, he left with three American detainees. The three men were back in the states on Thursday, apparently in good health, in what was clearly a red-letter day for the administration.
This was positive news and it was widely reported — as even the conservative watchdogs at the Media Research Center would have to admit.
The center this week released a study in which it claims some 90 percent of broadcast news stories about the president and his administration are negative. It cites coverage of the special counsel probe into Russian efforts to meddle in the 2016 presidential election, the ongoing scandal involving payment to adult film star Stormy Daniels, and various controversies surrounding administration figures such as EPA Director Scott Pruitt.
Let’s be honest: These stories are legitimate, accurately reported and consequential to the public’s understanding of the administration and those leading it. To the extent they are negative, it is because they detail negative activities. A scandal-plagued and controversial president is going to generate coverage of scandal and controversy.
And let’s not forget, it is the president himself, and those around him, who create, elevate and prolong many of these stories. One need look no further than newly hired Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani to see how the administration creates the type of press that conservative defenders would slam as negative. When Giuliani appears in the cozy studios of Fox’s Sean Hannity and drops the bombshell that the president did indeed reimburse his attorney Michael Cohen for a $130,000 hush-money payment to Daniels — an assertion Trump had long denied — is the media supposed to ignore it?
Remarkably, Trump is now pointing to the Media Research Center report to suggest revoking media credentials from major outlets.
“The Fake News is working overtime,” Trump wrote on — where else? — Twitter on Wednesday, deflecting attention from the positive events in North Korea. “Just reported that, despite the tremendous success we are having with the economy & all things else, 91 per cent of the Network News about me is negative (Fake). Why do we work so hard in working with the media when it is corrupt? Take away credentials?”
Again, negative news is not fake. But the White House views any story that does not adhere to its own self-congratulatory version of events as negative, fake and oppositional.
Note the criticism leveled at the media by first lady Melania Trump’s communications director this week after it was reported that her new “Be Best” campaign included recycled Obama-era content. Instead of taking responsibility for the mistake — which echoed the first lady’s 2016 Republican Convention speech and its lengthy sections lifted from a speech given by former first lady Michele Obama — Stephanie Grisham, the communications director, “ripped into the ‘opposition media’ for their ‘focus’ on the (Obama-era) booklet over the substance of Trump's campaign,” reported Politico.
Talk about shooting the messenger.
Trump’s reference to rescinding press credentials might be dismissed as another in a series of pouty tweets, were there not a precedent for such a move. Recall, his presidential campaign temporarily barred major outlets including the Washington Post from covering his election events. The Trump White House has yet to take such a step, though it has given credentials to far-right websites such as InfoWars.
The answer to the administration’s concerns about negative coverage, of course, is to generate more positive stories. Wednesday’s release of the three detainees is a good example. Instead of wallowing in grievances, the president should seek to build on it. The media doesn’t ignore important stories coming out of the White House — good or bad.