Wayne Lee/VOA NEWS
A group of news media advocacy organizations is calling on President-elect Donald Trump to «preserve long-standing traditions» to ensure the press is free to inform the public of his presidential activities.
In an open letter Wednesday to Trump, 18 organizations asked him to maintain a pool of reporters that covers all of the president’s activities and movements and to have regular briefings with the news media.
“The role of the press pool is critically important to our country, whose citizens depend on and deserve to know what the president is doing,” the letter said.
Concerns about news media access to Trump during his presidency were raised Tuesday night when he departed his Trump Tower residence in New York City for a dinner without his press pool.
Frosty relationship with media
During his campaign, it was not uncommon for Trump to hurl angry remarks at journalists or to ban news outlets from his campaign appearances.
Trump’s frosty relationship with the news media should not be a barrier to pool access to the media, according to Columbia University journalism professor and two-time Pulitzer Prize winner Steve Coll.
“I don’t prejudge how he’s going to handle this,” Coll said in an interview with VOA. “I imagine he will continue to be hostile to the press as an institution, but I also imagine he will want to make himself accessible since that’s been his [mode of operating] that got him to the White House.”
Reminded of Reagan
Even if Trump bucked tradition by banning the White House press pool or curtailing its access to presidential activities, Coll said it would not violate the First Amendment of the Constitution, which protects freedom of the press, including the right to criticize the government.
“It seems to me that would be a stretch to make that claim, because the First Amendment protects the press against coercion by the government. It doesn’t guarantee the press a seat on the president’s plane,” he said.
Coll noted that the administration of Ronald Reagan, a former movie actor who served as president from 1981 to 1989, was very successful in reducing the influence of the working press by expertly utilizing staged televised events.
Every president since Reagan has found ways to work around the news media, Coll said. President Barack Obama, for example, has a Twitter account and his White House communicates directly with the public on a variety of other social media channels.
Trump, too, has used Twitter, having built a following of more than 15 million people.
Bannon considered «worrisome»
Of more concern to the American public than Trump’s obsessive use of Twitter, said Coll, is the appointment of Stephen Bannon as Trump’s chief White House strategist. Bannon is also former executive chairman of far-right Breitbart News.
Coll said Breitbart News served as the de facto communications arm of the Trump campaign, and an alignment with the White House would be a departure from presidential tradition.
“The fact he has brought Stephen Bannon into the White House suggests he intends to encourage that kind of communication. And I find that much more worrisome than Donald Trump tweeting,” he said.