The simmering cold, if heating up with every passing day, war between Trump and the press may be about to turn conventional, with the occasional chance of an ICBM.
Just days after calling out CNN fake news during his first press conference of 2017, Esquire reports that according to three senior officials on the transition team, the incoming Trump administration is “seriously considering” a plan to evict the press corps from the White House.
If the plan goes through, one of the officials said, the media will be removed from the cozy confines of the White House press room, where it has worked for several decades. Members of the press will be relocated to the White House Conference Center—near Lafayette Square—or to a space in the Old Executive Office Building, next door to the White House.
Trump’s press secretary tried to cast the possible relocation of the press corps as a matter, in part, of logistics. “There’s been so much interest in covering a President Donald Trump,” he said. “A question is: Is a room that has forty-nine seats adequate? When we had that press conference the other day, we had thousands of requests, and we capped it at four hundred. Is there an opportunity to potentially allow more members of the media to be part of this? That’s something we’re discussing.”
He added that “There has been no decision,” yet but acknowledged that “there has been some discussion about how to do it.”
Other Trump staffers, however, explain that it’s not business, it’s personal. “They are the opposition party,” a senior official was quoted by Esquire. “I want ’em out of the building. We are taking back the press room.”
A brief history of the White House press room:
Reporters have had some sort of workspace at the White House since Teddy Roosevelt’s time, but the current press room is an artifact of the Richard Nixon era, the dawn of the symbiosis of the press and the modern presidency. The “room” is actually a space containing work stations and broadcast booths, as well as the briefing area that is so familiar to viewers of presidential news conferences.
For the media, the White House press room—situated on the first floor, in the space between the presidential residence and the West Wing—is not only a convenience, with prime sources just steps away. It is also a symbol of the press’ cherished role as representatives of the American people. In the midst of the George W. Bush presidency, when relations between reporters and the Administration were growing testy, the White House press corps was removed from the press room for nearly a year, while the facility was remodeled. The move prompted such concern that the president himself had to offer his assurance that it was only temporary. (As it happened, press conferences were held at the White House Conference Center during the renovation).
Ultimately, it boils down to what Esquire calls “the media’s presumption of entitlement” which Trump officials “requires a change.”
If there is a credo that reflects the culture inside the James Brady Briefing Room (named after President Ronald Reagan’s first press secretary, who was wounded by a bullet meant for Reagan), it is that presidents come, and presidents go, but the White House press corps is forever. In that sentiment, some in the transition team discern precisely the attitude that led to the revolt that elected Trump president.
Whatever the philosophical consequences, a move of this magnitude by Trump would lead to even greater antagonism between the president and the press, which would likely lead to an even greater focus not so much on Trump’s policies and proposals, as on Trump himself as the conflict between the president-elect and the press hurtles along toward some yet undetermined climax.