Much has been said about the relationship between the Donald Trump administration and the national press in this column. Top adviser Steve Bannon has been so combative, he painted the press as the “opposition party.”
The charge suggests Bannon has a poor grasp of American democratic institutions.
Other administration officials have found themselves in extremely tight spots with the press. They try, sometimes to an absurd degree, to deflect questions that illustrate glaring holes in the Administration’s proposed "facts."
The noticeable impact of the adversarial relationship becomes abundantly clear when President Trump holds joint press conferences with visiting heads of state.
The first to visit President Trump at the White House was British Prime Minister Theresa May in January. The enormous chasm in questioning between the British and American reporters, as well as the President’s response to queries he finds unnerving, is a frightening prelude to years of avoidance and misinformation.
BBC News' Laura Kuenssberg, following a comparably softball question from Reuters’ Steve Holland about Russia and sanctions, took aim at President Trump:
“Mr. President, you've said before that torture works. You've praised Russia. You've said you want to ban some Muslims for -- from coming to America. You've suggested there should be punishment for abortion. For many people in Britain, those sound like alarming beliefs. What do you say to our viewers at home who are worried about some of your views and worried about you becoming the leader of the free world?”
In true Trump fashion, the President’s immediate response was to look to Prime Minister May and ask: “That was your choice of question?” Adding: “Well there goes that relationship.”
If that question were asked by an American reporter, President Trump would have squawked about “fake news” and pivoted to an attack on the mainstream media.
Domestic reporters are in a difficult spot.
They are expected to press President Trump hard about controversial issues -- the fear of reprimand, however, is real.
Yet if they don’t ask tough questions, such as WJLA’s Scott Thuman in yesterday’s joint press conference with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, reporters face the wrath of their colleagues.
Thuman encountered such backlash for a question about the two heads of state’s contrasting beliefs on immigration and terrorism, when the Michael Flynn story was at an apex, he felt compelled to explain himself:
“The Flynn topic was one I prepared as several potential questions. When down the row of reporters, I heard many others all planned to ask that exact question … and assuming they would, I chose to go a different route … Nothing was coordinated nor planted or even suggested by White House staff,” read a screenshot that Thuman posted on Twitter.
Press briefings held by Press Secretary Sean Spicer are becoming shorter and more contentious by the week.
Reporters are navigating a web of alternative truths, while trying to do their job as truth-tellers. We need more tough questions, like Kuenssberg’s, as the international press corps supports our “free” national press.