Some of the biggest names in television news made a pilgrimage to Trump Tower the other day to try to get in the good graces of President-elect Donald Trump. By all accounts, the meeting did not go particularly well.
Trump complained once again about what he considered unfair coverage during the campaign, singling out NBC and CNN in particular for their work. If the networks hoped Trump would forgive and forget, they were mistaken.
This follows a consistent Trump pattern over the last 18 months, during which he referred to media members as “scum” and “low-life.” He particularly likes trashing the “failing” New York Times, although he apparently can’t resist being interviewed by its reporters. That puts The Times one up on the Washington Post, which has been blackballed by Trump.
The media seems to be concerned about the level of access it’s going to have during the Trump Administration. He has not held a press conference in many months, prefers to communicate with the public via Twitter, and even ditched the pool reporters last weekend to have dinner at 21.
Media members who cover The White House are accustomed to their perks and the prestige that comes with mingling with the powerful, and they’re concerned that Trump is going to end all of that. If Trump does that, he will do the media a big favor although they won’t see it that way–there will be a lot of whining about threats to the First Amendment.
It has been said that power corrupts, and I maintain that people close to the powerful can be compromised by them. Reporters who cover The White House depend on the willingness of sources to feed them news. As a result, they end up protecting their sources and owing debts for favors granted.
That’s one reason Watergate–the biggest Washington scandal of the last 50 years–was exposed by two reporters based in Virginia. Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein didn’t know anybody in The White House, and didn’t owe anybody any favors. They didn’t play by the rules because they didn’t know that any rules existed.
When the Watergate story started to get some traction, Washington Post editor Ben Bradlee was under pressure to hand the story off to more experienced Washington hands who knew the territory better that a couple of guys outside the Beltway. Whether it was loyalty or some other reason, Bradlee let Woodward and Bernstein take the story wherever it would lead them.
The members of the media who will be covering the Trump Administration should invoke the spirit of Woodward and Bernstein, quit fretting about their perks and privileges, and focus on the job they were hired to do. The Trump Administration is shaping up as the source of all kinds of good stories. Who knows? There may even be another Watergate in there some place.