Believe it or not, the Trump administration may be the best thing to happen to journalism in a long time.
On Tuesday, the American Press Corps sent an open and rather abrasive letter to President-elect Donald Trump, warning him that denying them access to administration officials or the White House Briefing Room would not stop them from reporting on Trump’s administration or exposing falsehoods when they arise.
“You may decide that giving reporters access to your administration has no upside. We think that would be a mistake on your part, but again, it’s your choice,” the Press Corps writes.
“We are very good at finding alternative ways to get information; indeed, some of the best reporting during the campaign came from news organizations that were banned from your rallies.”
“Telling reporters that they won’t get access to something isn’t what we’d prefer, but it’s a challenge we relish,” the letter adds.
However, in the over 900 word letter, the Press Corps also acknowledges that Trump’s election was a wake up call to many members of the press, and their mission now is to regain the trust of the American people and set higher standards for themselves “than ever before.”
“We credit you with highlighting serious and widespread distrust in the media across the political spectrum. Your campaign tapped into that, and it was a bracing wake-up call for us. We have to regain that trust. And we’ll do it through accurate, fearless reporting, by acknowledging our errors and abiding by the most stringent ethical standards we set for ourselves.” – American Press Corps
And the Press Corps is right, Trump’s candidacy and transition has turned a spotlight on the failings of mass media. Public trust is the media is at historic lows. In the rush to be first, several news outlets have adopted the philosophy that it is better to be first than to be accurate.
As actor Denzel Washington put it, one of the effects of too much information is the “need to be first, not even to be true any more.”
“In our society, now it’s just first — who cares, get it out there. We don’t care who it hurts. We don’t care who we destroy. We don’t care if it’s true. Just say it, sell it. Anything you practice you’ll get good at — including BS.” – Denzel Washington
As seen in the last few years alone, this approach can be dangerous — and not just in the sense that it keeps Americans misinformed.
We credit you (Trump) with highlighting serious and widespread distrust in the media across the political spectrum.American Press Corps
In many ways, the tone has been set for the next four years. The relationship between the press and Donald Trump is likely to be far from cordial. Trump has called out and lambasted reporters and journalists at press conferences and on Twitter, and the press is fighting to maintain control of the dialogue.
“We will strive to get your point of view across, even if you seek to shut us out. But that does not mean we are required to turn our airwaves or column inches over to people who repeatedly distort or bend the truth,” the Press Corps warns. “We will call them out when they do, and we reserve the right, in the most egregious cases, to ban them from our outlets.”
The Press Corps concludes the letter informing the president-elect that members of the press will not allow him to divide them anymore and that they will work together when it is appropriate. They add:
“Best-case scenario, you’re going to be in this job for eight years. We’ve been around since the founding of the republic, and our role in this great democracy has been ratified and reinforced again and again and again. You have forced us to rethink the most fundamental questions about who we are and what we are here for. For that we are most grateful.”
As I said, the tone has been set.