There has been a great deal of talk lately (in some circles, anyway) about the White House press corps and how its makeup is being changed by the inclusion of “media outlets” (some no more prestigious or reliable than the blog you’re reading now) that would have had no hope of being credentialed under previous administrations, even if they had wanted to be. No one questions that the relationship of this White House to the press is different than that of previous administrations. And with right wing media outlets and “media outlets” appearing to attend press conferences primarily to cause left-wingers to misuse the word “performativity” there is also little question that the White House press corps has been reduced to a joke.
What is not well noted however, is that the White House press corp has been a joke for quite a long time: “stenographer” was not meant to be compliment, reporters. And while left and right may have criticized different aspects of press coverage, different stories, different editorials, I don’t think that we were criticizing them for fundamentally different reasons. John Stewart – a closer media observer than I will ever be – once asserted that the biases of the “mainstream media” aren’t left or right, but are biases towards sensationalism and laziness. In fact, the tendency of the NY Times, a supposedly liberal paper, to constantly feature right-wing narratives fits quite well with Stewart’s hypothesis: by presenting “strong left wing” and “strong right wing” narratives on its editorial pages, it provides the laziest possible refutation of accusations of bias (both sides! we print both sides!) and presents the marketable spectacle of the Great Fight™.
So here’s the real question: How will the media respond to being <i>overtly</i> reduced to a joke – a joke that is commonly known/told among people with whom big-money media actually interact?
There are two ways to go here: the first is to cease any pretensions to journalism or providing anything of any import other than entertainment. The Times, for instance, need not remain the home of the Great Fight™. They could drop any pretensions to seriousness and market its editorial page as a Great Circus™ instead.
The second? Stop being a joke. There are reasons that the White House has its own press room and provides free airfare around the world for influential journalists who write about US government & its president. First among those reasons is that past administrations found it to their advantage to provide their own answers to the questions journalists were asking. This was advantageous because in the absence of White House answers, the media of that day were going to print their own answers – and frequently ones that comported with reality.
A media that printed or broadcast the facts as they are, without White House spin, would be a disaster for any modern administration. Not only that, but if they broadcast the facts as they are, they might piss off (and thus lose access to) certain sources, but other sources wouldn’t want to be associated with the vile picture the available facts might paint. They, as individuals, might want you to know that there is this classified intel or that secret strategy that makes it reasonable they went along with a plan of action. Yes, some sources would dry up (at least for some reporters) with an official separation between White House and media. But it’s not at all clear that ultimately less information would come out, and even if less total information came out of a press-closed White House. it’s not clear that would mean less useful and relevant information would be released.
Trump and Spicer are such idiots that they don’t even see the advantage in having a domesticated press. They want to kick the press out the door so they don’t have to hear their constant whines to be fed this or that.
But you don’t necessary get to be free of problems with the press when you kick them out of your cushy home. Maybe they’ll all decide to be entertainers, but maybe, just maybe, when Trump and Spicer throw the domesticated press out the door, we’ll end up with a feral press.