You may have heard that president-elect Donald Trump (ugh, we still gag every time we type that) held a super-secret off-the-record meeting with journalists at Trump Tower yesterday so he could personally chew them out. Some journalists felt quite hurt that Trump wasn’t nice to them and so they ran off to tell The New Yorker and The New York Post. Gay journalist Glenn Greenwald heard about the meeting, and is now asking why the hell journalists agreed to it in the first place.
To begin with, why would journalistic organizations agree to keep their meeting with Donald Trump off the record? If you’re a journalist, what is the point of speaking with a powerful politician if you agree in advance that it’s all going to be kept secret? Do they not care what appearance this creates: the most powerful media organizations meeting high atop Trump Tower with the country’s most powerful political official, with everyone agreeing to keep it all a big secret from the public? Whether or not it actually is collusion, whether or not it actually is subservient ring-kissing in exchange for access, it certainly appears to be that…
The pretext these media stars offer for such meetings is unpersuasive in the extreme. ‘Oh, we need,’ they claim, ‘to negotiate access and how we’re going to work together, and this discussion can be productive only if everyone is confident that it won’t be reported.’ But why do media organizations need to have cooperative access agreements with politicians? Just report on and investigate what he says and does. Don’t agree to ground rules that limit or subvert your ability to report aggressively. Don’t turn yourselves into vassals in order to be granted access to the royal court.
To be fair, journalists sometimes have off-the-record meetings with government officials — it’s one way to get candid opinions and information that can sometimes lead to important stories. We can also understand why news organizations would want to get on Trump’s good side because, in one way, he’s got their collective junk in a bind: either they can suck up to the most powerful man in government and get lots of views and clicks by broadcasting Cheetoh Hitler’s Apprentice Christmas Special! Or they can miss out from all the sweet, lucrative behind-the-scenes access that Trump and the Trumpettes have ready for them.
It’s most likely that kissing up to Trump will provide little more than phony reality-show access, but it might also give journalists a shot at inside info from a disgruntled staffer or a peek at secret documents (kind of like what happened yesterday when a Trump adviser accidentally leaked his domestic security plan, including notes about that “Muslim registry” we keep hearing so much about).
Trump is currently back-pedaling many of his worst campaign promises — including ones about throwing Hillary Clinton in jail, pulling out of climate change agreements, and repealing Obamacare — but his administration still seems poised to be the most corrupt, least prepared, and most destructive one we’ve ever had. Trump has even said he’d change libel laws so he could litigate publications that write mean things about him.
Thus, Greenwald raises a worthwhile point: Amid the coming shit-show, we need brave journalists who will investigate his speeches, political appointments, “conflicts of interest” (i.e. corruption), supporters, and policies, not reporters who will kiss his ring and act as his stenographers and PR team. In the end, Greenwald’s worry is less about the optics of yesterday’s meeting and more about journalists who’ll be too afraid to ever genuinely go after Trump like he, and any other president-elect, deserves.