Will Constant Tension be the New Normal in White House-Media Relations?

By Chris Adams

For reporters who cover the White House, things turned tense even before the next president has moved in. Those reporters are uncertain how their relationship with Donald Trump will envolve once the new president takes office in January 2017.

In a panel discussion during the president-elect’s transition period, the president of the White House Correspondents’ Association relayed some of his concerns about what transpired in the four weeks after Trump won the election. Jeff Mason, a reporter for Reuters, described one incident in which Trump ditched his press pool to head out for a New York dinner; the president-elect also traveled without a protective pool of reporters when he made his first post-election visit to Washington.

In both cases, the correspondents’ assocation registered its concern, noting that jilting the protective pool was “breaking with decades of historical precedent and First Amendment principles.”

What will that mean going forward? Mason said WHCA is developing its relationship with Trump and that the incoming president’s team said they will support long-held traditions of press access at the White House. Mason said he’s “cautiously optimistic” the relationship can be a good one.

The panel was sponsored by the National Press Foundation and held at the University of Maryland Philip Merrill College of Journalism’s downtown Washington location. The college’s dean, Lucy Dalglish, is a First Amendment lawyer who previously directed the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, which supports journalists on access issues. Dalglish said she was encouraged on some access issues, such as recent improvements to the Freedom of Information Act that presume openness in some records (a detailed look at the FOIA changes here). But she’s also extremely concerned about Trump’s pick for attorney general: Sen. Jeff Sessions, a Republican from Alabama she said has had a particuarly hostile relationship with the press.

Kevin Goldberg, a First Amendment lawyer who represents media groups and is also NPF’s chairman, said what he fears most is that the tension between Trump’s team and the press will become the new normal – and that access and transparency that has been gradually won over years will erode.

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