Masha Gessen at The New Yorker argues that a media boycott of the Trump White House in the wake of the clear setup of CNN's Jim Acosta to be stripped of his press credential would be a complete and total victory for the Trump regime.
What should the media do now? On the CNN Web site, the British journalist Jane Merrick advocates for a boycott: “The entire White House press corps should walk out. Deny him coverage. Take him off the air. Cancel his series. Leave him to rage into Twitter's echo chamber, which is all he deserves.”
There are good arguments in favor of a boycott. It would feel good and righteous to stop rebroadcasting the messages of a corrupt, lying, hateful Administration. A walkout would serve as a clear demonstration of professional solidarity, and solidarity is an absolute value. Reducing the amount of Trump on the air and in print would also probably be a good thing. The media scholar Jay Rosen has long argued for downgrading the prestige of the White House assignment proportionately to the quality of information that emerges from the Administration. “Put your most junior people in the White House briefing room,” he has written. “Recognize that the real story is elsewhere, and most likely hidden.”
But there is a counterargument. The White House is a lousy source of information about itself, but it is also the best available source. The real story of Trumpism is probably found not in the White House or even in Washington but in Ohio, in Texas, along the Mexican border, in refugee camps the world over, in Afghanistan, in Yemen, and in the Palestinian territories. But the story of how the Administration functions must still be observed up close. Walking away would give this White House exactly what it wants: less contact with the media, less visibility, ever less transparency and accountability. Walking away would feel good, but it would ultimately be a loss. Would the loss in information be greater than the gain in solidarity? That’s a hard question, but my guess is that the answer is yes.
The Trump Administration has the media in a vise. On the one hand, most of what comes out of White House mouths is poison to the public conversation: because it’s a lie, or an expression of hate, or both. Simply reporting Trump’s lies and incendiary comments, however critically, serves to entrench his world view as a part of our shared reality. At the same time, he is the President. His Twitter pronouncements find a sympathetic audience among tens of millions of Americans. Refusing to engage with his words would mean refusing to engage with Trump voters and with the Trump Administration itself. It would mean walking away from politics altogether, which, for journalists, would be an abdication of responsibility.
As for that responsibility, it warrants some reflection. Americans, including those who claim to have no use for the media that Trump calls “fake,” expect the press to perform a public function. The media is the fourth estate of the political system, and the only one expected to earn its own keep, independent of how well it performs its service to the public. With significant but limited exceptions—such as NPR, ProPublica, and the Marshall Project—American media producers are rewarded not for how well they inform the public but for how many sets of eyes they can draw to advertising. The correlation between these two measures is tenuous, if it exists at all. In the end, the decision about whether to walk out of the White House, report the latest tweet, or publish an anonymous Op-Ed is made on the basis largely—if not solely—of market factors: How will it play against the competition, and how many people will be drawn to read it? That’s the sort of logic that makes perfect sense to Trump, who believes that the world turns on the profit motive. But Americans may want to reconsider the wisdom of entrusting the fourth estate to the laws of the commercial marketplace.
It's a very lofty argument and one with merit. Meanwhile, Trump continues to specifically attack black women journalists now that Acosta is gone, targeting them for his rage and ire and threatening them specifically with the loss of their press credentials as well.
This week, he hit a trifecta, singling out three African American women who are journalists. The women — Abby Phillip, April Ryan and Yamiche Alcindor — earned his contempt apparently just for asking him questions.
Trump called one of Phillip’s questions “stupid,” described Ryan as “a loser” and brushed off Alcindor, saying her question was “racist.”
Phillip, a CNN reporter and former Washington Post journalist, drew Trump’s wrath on Friday, after she asked whether he hoped Matthew G. Whitaker, Trump’s appointee as acting attorney general, would “rein in” special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s probe of Trump’s presidential campaign.
“What a stupid question that is. What a stupid question,” Trump snapped. He didn’t answer the allegedly “stupid” question, but he did pour more contempt on Phillip. “I watch you a lot,” he said. “You ask a lot of stupid questions.”
He suggested he was considering pulling other reporters’ press credentials to cover the White House, as he did with CNN reporter Jim Acosta on Wednesday.
Among those he brought up in that context was Ryan.
“You talk about someone who’s a loser,” Trump said of Ryan, a reporter for American Urban Radio Networks and a contributor to CNN. “She doesn’t know what the hell she’s doing. She gets publicity and then she gets a pay raise, or she gets a contract with, I think, CNN. But she’s very nasty and she shouldn’t be. You’ve got to treat the White House and the office of the presidency with respect.”
Trump’s “loser” comment came two days after he admonished Ryan at a White House news conference.
“Sit down! I didn’t call you,” Trump commanded after Ryan tried to ask him about alleged voter suppression in the midterm elections. “Such a hostile media, it’s so sad,” Trump added as Ryan pressed him. “You rudely interrupted him,” Trump told her, referring to another reporter.
A few moments later, Alcindor asked Trump about his recent characterization of himself as “a nationalist” and whether that label was “emboldening white nationalists.”
Trump interrupted her and responded, “I don’t know why you say that, that is such a racist question.” He repeated that characterization — “racist” — two more times.
The National Association of Black Journalists is at least coming to defense of all three, but if anyone thinks Trump is going to moderate his racist behavior, or cool his assaults on a free press, there's no hope for you. At some point, that balance Gessen mentioned has to tip in the favor of a total boycott.
Of course, Trump could save the media the trouble and just ban the press. I'm betting that's far more likely than the media deciding on a boycott.