Jack Shafer writes: Donald Trump and his forthcoming presidency may be the greatest gift to Washington journalism since the invention of the expense account. His unorthodox approach to politics and governance has vaporized the standard, useful, yet boring script for reporting on a new administration’s doings. At his news conference last week, Trump began the process of washing the press completely out of his fake hair as he castigated CNN and BuzzFeed for reporting on the oppo-research dossier compiled on him. “Fake news,” said the man who has appeared on InfoWars and commended the outlet’s efforts.
Trump’s surrogate Newt Gingrich took to Sean Hannity’s program on Fox to assist in the maiming of the media. Trump and his team “need to go out there and understand they have it in their power to set the terms of this dialogue,” Gingrich said on the Jan. 11 episode. “They can close down the elite press.” Next up came Reince Priebus’ announcement that Trump might evict the presidential press corps from the White House for lesser lodging in the adjacent Old Executive Office Building, and Sean Spicer’s admonition that reporters “adhere to a high level of decorum at press briefings and press conferences,” according to a readout of his two-hour summit with the head of the White House Correspondents’ Association. (Or else what, one wonders?)
Now, before the Committee to Protect Journalists throws up the batsign and the rest of us bemoan Trump’s actions as anti-press — which they are — let’s thank the incoming president for simplifying our mission. If Trump’s idea of a news conference is to spank the press, if his lieutenants believe the press needs shutting down, if his chief of staff wants to speculate about moving the White House press scrum off the premises, perhaps reporters ought to take the hint and prepare to cover his administration on their own terms. Instead of relying exclusively on the traditional skills of political reporting, the carriers of press cards ought to start thinking of covering Trump’s Washington like a war zone, where conflict follows conflict, where the fog prevents the collection of reliable information directly from the combatants, where the assignment is a matter of life or death.
In his own way, Trump has set us free. Reporters must treat Inauguration Day as a kind of Liberation Day to explore news outside the usual Washington circles. He has been explicit in his disdain for the press and his dislike for press conferences, prickly to the nth degree about being challenged and known for his vindictive way with those who cross him. So, forget about the White House press room. It’s time to circle behind enemy lines. [Continue reading…]