Saturday, February 25, 2017

Trump WH Dislikes Freedom of Info, Blocks NYT, CNN, BBC, Politico, Buzzfeed from Gaggle

"We have great respect for the press when it comes to government. That is something you can't ban an entity from – Conservative, Liberal or otherwise. I think that's what makes a Democracy a democracy versus a dictatorship." Sean Spicer December 16 2016

On Feb 24 2017 the White House held a press gaggle  instead of its daily press briefing and barred NYT, Politico, CNN, LA Times, Buzzfeed, BBC, the Guardian and Daily Mail from attending. Allowed to attend were Breitbart News, Hearst, McClatchy, Wall Street Journal, Washington Times, One American News Network, AP, Time, and TV networks CBS, NBC, Fox and ABC. 

AP and Time heard in advance and boycotted the gaggle. Alarmingly, when some journalists gathered outside in frustration, they were removed by Secret Service, on the order of the White House.

It's not unusual to hold in camera press gaggles, but it is unusual to cherry-pick who can attend. Gaggles with the press secretary usually limit the pool of reporters when they conflict with the president's travel arrangements, in which case they often happen on Air Force One.  

This gaggle, however, simply replaced the daily press briefing. The motive was ludicrously transparent. They wanted to avoid uncomfortable questions about the FBI's refusal to accommodate the White House demand that coverage of possible relationships between Trump staff and Russia be censored. They also wanted to minimize damage done by Donald Trump's manic, rambling, non-sequitur-packed, contradictory, nonsensical  tirade against the media at CPAC, where he revved up the crowd of adoring fans into virtual hysteria.

Much like Mitch McConnell's attempt to muzzle Elizabeth Warren in Jeff Sessions' confirmation hearing, and as all the Trump Administration moves have done so far, this one backfired on the White House. Interest in the Russian connection has ballooned and liberal outlets have gotten good publicity already over this gaggle. Public outrage has flared up again, and legitimate media are expressing their disdain. 

Wall Street Journal issued a statement saying that it had attended not knowing about the exclusions and "had we known at the time, we would have participated, and we will not participate in such closed briefings in the future." Executive editor of  McClatchy Washington said the same.

Marty Baron, Executive Editor of The Post  called it appalling and added "This is an undemocratic path that the administration is travelling… We are currently evaluating what our response will be if this sort of thing happens again."

The Committee to Protect Journalists and the National Press Club condemned the move and  White House Correspondents Association president Jeff Mason said, "We encourage the organizations that were allowed in to share the material with others in the press corps who were not. The board will be discussing this further with White House staff."  New York Times White House correspondent Peter Baker wrote to the WH press corps email list, "Congratulations to Time and AP for not attending today's gaggle in protest."

Ben Wizner, Director of the Speech, Privacy and Technology Project at the American Civil Liberties Union said that this is "Another disturbing example of the Trump administration’s contempt for the vital role a free press plays in our democracy."

Is there a sector of western democracy that the Trump Administration has not assaulted in some way in the  past month? Each one is worse than the last as Bannon gains power and Trump believes more and more that he can get away with anything.

It's clear that they and their close team are trying to replicate Vladimir Putin's assault on freedom of the press. But they're missing a couple of important factors, the first one of which explains why they're missing them. Putin is a nasty and dangerous man but he's really intelligent, insightful and strategic, which none of the Trump camp are. Secondly, Putin does love to boast, but not about his underhanded moves. Trump and Bannon can't stop themselves. Thirdly, Putin never exposes himself in writing—i.e. in tweets.

Again, Trump can't stop himself. Fourthly, most Americans aren't as brain-washable as Russians seem to be. Alexander Solzhenitsyn wrote, in The Gulag Archipelago, “In keeping silent about evil, in burying it so deep within us that no sign of it appears on the surface, we are implanting it, and it will rise up a thousand fold in the future. When we neither punish nor reproach evildoers, we are not simply protecting their trivial old age, we are thereby ripping the foundations of justice from beneath new generations.” 

That appears to be happening again in Russia, as Putin's popularity increases for no reason that has any sense or moral good to it, but it will never happen in America.

Bannon, Trump, Priebus, Conway, Spicer can all rant and rave about the corrupt press as much as they want. But they're only reaching a negligible number of Americans in comparison to the huge number they are inspiring to take a stand. Most of America, and the whole world, can see the truth. An enormous amount of pro-democracy activity is happening at every level, people of all ages, including the youth, getting involved in politics beyond just voting, going to town hall meetings, voicing their protest, joining and/or volunteering for pro-democracy organizations. Democratic politicians are stepping up in response to demands from their electorate that they fight.

Hillary Clinton has resurfaced, as have the Obamas. And of course the FBI is continuing with its investigation into the Russian Connection.

The stupidity, the lies, the constant denials are intensely frustrating. Trump's attempt to disenfranchise the press as part of a larger strategy to disenfranchise every non-white and every poor and middle-class white in America is terrifying. But it's feeble in the face of the sleeping giant that his dictator-type tactics have awoken. To quote Representative John Lewis: