On Friday, Feb. 24, President Donald Trump made the decision to ban three major news sources, including The New York Times, Politico, and CNN, from meeting with the Press Secretary for the scheduled press briefing held in the West Wing of the White House. This move comes as the latest of slanders against the American press, who Trump this past week dubbed “the enemy of the American people” in a tweet disparaging major news outlets like ABC, CBS and The New York Times. Not only is the White House’s decision to handpick the news sources they want to communicate with morally wrong, it is constitutionally wrong to suppress freedom of speech and freedom of the press.
Last summer, I watched all seven season of Aaron Sorkin’s iconic show “The West Wing,” which details the day-to-day events faced by the staff of President Josiah Bartlet. Though Sorkin’s show is hopelessly optimistic and idealistic about the good that can come from government, and can be seen as liberal indulgence, “The West Wing” is eye-opening about what goes on behind the scenes in the White House. With this knowledge in mind and therefore knowing a little about how the president’s staff operates, I can’t help but make comparisons with real life and situations on the show. And when comparing press secretaries and their dealings with the press, all I can think is, “C.J. wouldn’t stand for this.”
C.J. Cregg is the fictional press secretary on “The West Wing” played by Allison Janney, and though her dealings with the press on the show are sometimes contentious and irksome, never in any situation would she suggest that the president bar a member of the press because she thought they’d cast the president in a bad light. By the same token, she would never accept an order from the president asking for this same thing, and would be the first to vehemently protest it. The point I’m trying to make with all this talk of a TV show is that, if it’s implausible that a fictional press secretary for a fictional president would accept such a request to restrict access of the press, what does that say about the measures the current administration is now taking?
The fact is, Donald Trump and his administration are too ridiculous even for television. This picture of him and the office of the president is so unflattering that he’s naming news sources that say so as his enemies. On the other side, as The New York Times reported, “Organizations allowed in included Breitbart News, the One America News Network and The Washington Times, all with conservative leanings.” The inclusion of Breitbart in this approved list is especially suspect considering Steve Bannon’s current role as a top advisor to Trump. This may suggest a high level of manipulation from Bannon through his position, causing Trump to lean more right than he originally might have. Trump is organizing the media in a way that backs up the image of himself that he wants to present, rather than letting reliable news sources pick apart the many mistakes he’s made so far.
Not only is this blocking of specific outlets morally wrong for the president to do — it violates the very First Amendment of the Constitution. Now should be a time more than ever for Republicans that have sworn up and down to adhere to the rules of the Constitution to call him out. Repression of freedom of speech and of the press comes even before the amendment giving Americans the right to bear arms, also known as the one true love of traditional conservatives. If the Constitution and its many articles and amendments mean so much, why have no major Republican leaders called Trump out for not just this decision, but for many others he’s made during his short time in office? It’s time for them, wherever they are, to step up to the plate and disprove their hypocrisy.
This latest measure out of the White House perpetuates Trump’s lack of respect for not only the press but for the basis on which the foundation for our country was laid. As Bradley Whitford, who played the deputy chief of staff on “The West Wing,” summed up in a tweet this past week: “It’s like having someone pilot a jet who has never flown before. Who thinks planes are stupid.” In deciding that the news is only something he can decide, Trump is undermining the rights of the American people and press, and limiting their rights in how they consume news content. The president doesn’t get to control the news or the stances they take; that’s not what “the leader of the free world” is meant to do. That world, with its limits and bias, isn’t very free at all.