Media Needs To Wise Up

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February 26, 2017 3:31 PM

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The recent flare-up between the White House Press Office and reporters covering the president is more than just a conflict between the media and the Trump Administration.  It is an opportunity for the media to start covering the Trump White House in a smarter way.  However, I am not optimistic.

Why did Press Secretary Sean Spicer exclude certain news organizations, seen by the White House as unfriendly to the president, from a “gaggle?” (a gaggle means reporters come to Spicer’s office with no cameras)   The first reaction one would have is that this is another step in the escalation of the mounting war of words from the president’s Tweets attacking some media outlets, going as far as calling the news media “an enemy of the American people.”

Let’s take a step back and think about what the big news story of the day was before the Spicer-media showdown.  It was a Washington Post report that White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus went looking for people in the American intelligence community to counter news stories about Trump administration members’ ties to Russia.

Note that the Russia story was no longer the first story of the day once the media conflict ignited.  This administration has a very sophisticated strategy for manipulating the news media.  If a story surfaces you don’t like, just create a story that will overshadow it.

This strategy is only effective if the media plays along.  Let’s face it, the media almost always takes the bait.  The news media, particularly at the national level, love to write about themselves.

If the news organizations feel slighted, that almost always becomes the biggest story of the day.  But there is a way to counter this strategy.

The national news media, particularly White House correspondents, often work as a pack.  News organizations are truly independent and value that independence, but if you look at their collective work product, often they act as a pack.

What if the Washington media outlets all agreed not to let themselves be manipulated by this White House strategy of misdirection?  What if the editors, bureau chiefs and news directors all decided to lay off the manufactured news?

Don’t get me wrong, denying access to White House officials, selectively based on how certain news organizations are covering the president, is a dangerous road.  First Amendment rights must be preserved and I understand that.

But at the same time, let’s try to be smart about this.  Cover the story that needs to be covered based on that story’s importance, not on how the media is impacted.

This is a conversation all journalists in Washington, particularly the White House Correspondents Association, need to have.  Sadly, I am not optimistic this will happen anytime soon.

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