For reasons that I can’t possibly understand, the White House Correspondents’ Association (WHCA) has a standing invitation to President Donald Trump to attend their annual dinner later on this month.
This is the same Trump who just a few days ago resumed his irrational campaign against the “Fake Washington Post” and called for the publication to register as a lobbyist.
On April 2, he defended Sinclair Broadcasting, which has been forcing local news outlets it controls to run de-facto propaganda segments decrying “fake news,” calling Sinclair “far superior to CNN and even more Fake NBC, which is a total joke.”
The next morning began with Trump returning to his Sinclair defense, specifically designating “CNN, NBC, ABC & CBS” as “Fakers” that “knowingly have a sick and biased agenda” who “have done so much dishonest reporting that they should only be allowed to get awards for fiction!”
A few hours later, Trump name-checked (CNN president) “Little Jeff Zucker” and advocated for his removal.
This, after Trump campaign manager Brad Parscale opined on Twitter: “Maybe it is time for Jim Acosta to get a suspension for breaking protocol. He continues to embarrass himself and @CNN. Pull his credentials for each incident.”
Acosta’s offense? He “yelled” a question about DACA at the president of the United States during the White House Easter Egg Roll.
That of course is his job. A job so paramount and essential to our democracy that the Founding Fathers saw fit to protect it with the First Amendment. You know, the amendment that comes before that other amendment that Trump die-hards are falling over themselves trying to “protect” from high school children? But I digress. And given that the president hasn’t held a solo press conference in over a year, reporters are now forced to ask him questions whenever they have a chance.
Why on earth would members of the free press degrade themselves and undermine their own credibility by sharing drinks and telling jokes with the very person who has called them the “enemy of the people?”
Some may argue that its incumbent on the press to be the “bigger man” and not give fodder to Trump’s lament that the mainstream media is a bunch of liberal elites who have it in for his administration. While lovely in its optimism, this argument falls short. Inviting the president to a black tie dinner will do nothing to contain the extreme rhetoric of fearmongers who prey and profit on ignorance.
The idea that somehow an evening like this would in any way improve relations between the president and the White House press corps is at best naive. Moreover, it is insulting to ask journalists who are constantly ridiculed, lied about and lied to by this administration to break bread and pretend that their right to report facts and truth isn’t under siege.
Consider the words that appear on the WHCA’s own website: “The Association, founded in 1914 to represent the White House press corps, works to maintain independent news media coverage of the president, advocating for access, handling logistics for pools of reporters who stay close to the president and those who travel with him, and providing scholarships to journalism students.”
It is insulting to ask journalists who are constantly ridiculed, lied about and lied to by this administration to pretend that their right to report isn’t under siege.
And yet, Donald Trump doesn’t want “independent news media coverage” — he wants fawning coverage that ignores the facts and props up his distorted version of reality.
Trump is not the first president to pick fights with the media, that much is clear. But other presidents have disliked the press and still found ways to communicate with them. Trump’s dislike for the press has been a function of his presidency from the start. He limits access to those in the media who regurgitate his propaganda and attacks anyone who dares to challenge his status quo. In some cases, his underlings even advocate for suspensions.
Inviting Trump to attend an event that is supposed to celebrate the First Amendment makes as much sense as inviting Mike Pence to officiate a gay wedding.
In the wake of Trump’s most recent attacks against the journalistic community, the White House Correspondent’s Association should rescind its invitation for this year. If they don’t and Trump decides to attend, media outlets and journalists should boycott the event in a show of solidarity and support for press freedoms and the Constitution.
Kurt Bardella is an NBC THINK Contributor. He is a former spokesperson for the Chairman of the House Oversight & Government Reform Committee Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA), Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-CA) and Rep. Brian Bilbray (R-CA).Follow him on Twitter: @kurtbardella