Monday, January 9, 2017

Trump Ditches Media for a Bit: Good!

            Some of my best friends really are or have been journalists, or at least teachers of journalism, but here is one case in which I agree with Donald Trump against "the media."
            In a brief Associated Press article on 31 December 2016, Jill Colvin very elegantly told the world, Donald "Trump ditches media for golf game" in Jupiter, Florida. More specifically,  "President-elect Donald Trump has ditched his press pool once again — this time traveling to play golf at his club in Jupiter, Florida, without a pool of journalists on hand to ensure the public has knowledge of his whereabouts." Without straining AP objectivity too far, Ms. Clovin complains that "Trump, both as a candidate and during the transition, has often scoffed at tradition," specifically the tradition of an ever-present press pool, "allowing a group of reporters to follow him at all times, to ensure the public knows where he is. Not long after his election, Trump went out to dinner with his family in Manhattan without informing the pool of his whereabouts" and now — playing hooky to play golf!
            Clovin says, "The practice is meant to ensure that journalists are on hand to witness, on behalf of the public, the activities of the president or president-elect, rather than relying on secondhand accounts" and notes … generously? that "The White House also depends on having journalists nearby at all times to relay the president's first comments on breaking news." Repaying that generosity, "Trump aides appear to have made an effort in recent weeks to offer additional access, allowing reporters to camp out outside a doorway at Mar-a-Lago to document staff and Cabinet candidates' arrivals and departures and providing information about his meeting schedule."
            Uh, huh.
            Working backwards through the quotes:
                        * Camping out?! Are you people presidential paparazzi? Well, yes, with about as little self-respect, apparently as paparazzi.
                        * Getting the President's (or President-elect's) "first comments on breaking news": Gang, with any president, but especially with Donald Trump, the last thing that should go out to the world are comments on breaking news beyond a boilerplate notice, "We are following developments and will comment when we have more information." It may be cruel to note, but the 24/7 news cycle is your problem, and shouldn't be allowed to tempt officials and spokesfolk into making statements when they don't really know what's going on and prudence requires that they just shut the hell up until things settle down.
                        * I'm old enough to remember when stalking the president got started, and it may be that  "The practice is meant" in someone's theory "to ensure that journalists are on hand to witness, on behalf of the public, the activities of the president or president-elect, rather than relying on secondhand accounts" — but the specific occasions when the practice got started were the assassinations of the 1960s and the attempted assassinations later of Presidents Ford and Reagan.
            There's a morbid origin to constant coverage of the president, and as a continuing matter an assassination attempt is about the only thing that requires reporters right there reporting on what a president is doing in public. Where there's a pressing public right to know and media's obligation to report, we're talking policies decided on in private meetings and announced (if at all) in formal public addresses — not paparazzi stuff or shouted questions and over-the-shoulder answers.
            No. Guys and gals of the press corps: Go home or, and better, back to the office. News organizations: Enough already with the death-watch coverage of the president and other important people; put your money into bureaus — you can look the word up in histories of journalism — and into in-depth research of mostly public documents, with interviews with the aides and agency operatives of what has been insightfully called "the permanent government." That is, drop the celebrity-reporting already and do the sort of in-depth journalistic Scheisswerk that I. F. Stone and such were good at.
            Think about it. You guys and gals in the White House press corps look down your noses as the literal paparazzi and the "jock sniffers" who rush into locker rooms to get the very first post-game comments from players who really should be left alone to shower — and I'll bet show equal contempt for the on-air airheads who do celebrity interviews … right? Well, if you're camped out at goddamn Mar-a-Lago, you're no better.
            In this case, Trump is on the mark: he should ditch you and have dinner with his family or play a game of golf. He has a right to some privacy, and the public have a right to go a couple days without having to hear one word more about Donald J. Trump. Serious journalists should spend more time trying to get hold of Trump's financial data and the full-form prescription list from Dr. Feelgood, his hippy-dippy family physician, or spend more time on what the Congress might be up to and/or the bureaucrats who most directly affect people's lives.

            So Go Trump! / Lose the Press Corps! But not for too long. There's much to be said for your staying in the public eye, Mr. Trump, over-exposing yourself, and getting your enemies pool up to critical mass. 

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