"Props"— how Trump keeps humiliating White House press corps

Getting pushed around, again

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White House correspondents used to be among the most respected and powerful positions within the Beltway media. It was often the pinnacle position for the rising stars of political journalism, as they squared off with presidents in public view. Today, the Trump White House has stripped the position of its worth, thanks to constant cooperation for journalists who refuse to stand up for themselves.

On Friday, as Trump addressed the media in the Rose Garden to crow about recent employment numbers, reporters were forced to sit shoulder-to-shoulder as the White House blatantly disregarded Center for Disease Control guidelines for social distancing. Trump officials said the packed-in seating arrangement looked "better" on TV. Adding to the insult, Trump then refused to take any questions at the "news conference."

Incredibly, not a single correspondent stood up and left the Rose Garden briefing on the basis that the White House was purposefully putting journalists at risk. How did we get to such an bewildering place where veteran political journalists are so reluctant to push back against Trump bullying that they won't take action when they know they're being used as "props," and they know they're possibly being put in physical danger. News accounts later suggested reporters "objected" to the seating. In truth, they didn’t “object" in real time. They did absolutely nothing.

It's all so distressing and baffling. Especially for people who want to see a robust press corps working hard to hold Trump accountable. The solution on Friday, when chairs for reporters were pushed together, was blindingly obvious. "Reporters only become “props” when they permit it," tweeted former NBC News executive, Mark Lukasiewicz. "Why didn’t reporters (a) move the chairs (b) sit in every other seat (c) stand to the sides, socially distanced?"

The humiliation represented the latest in a long string of put-downs and purposeful embarrassment for the White House press corps, as concocted by the Trump administration. Recently, the White House Correspondents Association banned a conspiracy reporter from Trump's favorite niche cable outlet, One America News network. She's still showing up though, making a mockery of the press briefings, because she's been receiving a personal invite from the White House.

"OAN serves up an agenda of right-wing conspiracy theories and pro-Trump commentary mixed in with wire video news packages," the Associated Press notes. That's putting it kindly — OAN correspondent Chanel Rion recently asked the White House press secretary if Trump was considering issuing a pardon to Barack Obama to cover all the supposed crimes he committed while president. (Obamagate!)

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Worse, today’s White House briefings, under recently appointed press secretary Kayleigh McEnany, have devolved into a farce. She aggressively lies to reporters — often about a public health crisis — and even advertises upcoming Fox News specials from the behind the White House podium. But reporters keep showing up to be lied to and insulted. And cable news channels keep airing the briefing charades live, and in their entirety.

For the record, virutally no news is ever generated at the briefings. Just like there was very little news generated as the months’ worth of Trump's pandemic briefings at the White House, where he lied religiously about a pandemic. Yet, those breifings were covered without pause and treated as urgent, breaking news events.

Why does the bullying of a couple dozen elite Beltway journalists at the White House matter? Because it sends a much larger message about Trump's autocratic attack on the free press. It's no coincidence that after three years of Trump's deliberate and dehumanizing rhetoric about how journalists represents "enemies of the people," that journalists were assaulted at an unprecedented rate while covering nationwide protests over racial inequality in recent days.

Friday's charade may have been a new low in terms of Trump mocking the White House press corps. After setting up the chairs for reporters in what has become the traditional, social distancing setting with reporters at least six feet apart, White House aides at the last minute jammed the chairs together to create the illusion that the pandemic is over in America. "I notice you’re starting to get much closer together — looks much better, I must say," Trump said in the Rose Garden, as he urged the country to throw off restrictions designed to combat the spread of Covid-19.

There's no question the move was made without the concerns of reporters in mind. “The health of the press corps should not be put in jeopardy because the White House wants reporters to be a prop for a 'news conference' where the president refused to answer any questions," White House Correspondents Association president Jonathan Karl later complained. So why wasn’t something done before the Rose Garden event took place? Why wasn’t there a walk-out?

The CDC recommends everyone practice social distancing and stay at least 6 feet away from one another, including when they're outside. The CDC also recommends everyone wear cloth face coverings while outside their homes, even if they do not have coronavirus symptoms. Trump has previously mocked White House reporters who ask questions while wearing masks, dismissing them as "politically correct."

It's never good when the press gets used by the White House as props. It's worse when they get used willingly.

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It remains astounding to me that newspaper editorial boards, watching the White House madness unfold week after week, refuse to demand Trump's resignation. Even though more than a 100 dailies insisted Bill Clinton step down because he was "unfit" to serve.

Last week the Portland Press Herald did the right thing and urged Trump to resign. Let's hope more media voices find the courage and do the same:

Binging the nation together in times of distress is a big part of the job when you are head of state. You can’t do it, so you should resign. 

As head of government, you have unmatched power to direct resources to relieve suffering. You can’t or won’t do that, either, so you should resign. 

And in your mistreatment of lawful protesters and abuse of religious symbols, you have violated your oath to protect and defend the Constitution, so you should resign.

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Mavis Staples, "All In It Together"

A bona fide national treasure, Staples arrives with the right song at the right time as the nation struggles to make seismic change in the streets.

Bob Dylan wanted to marry her 50 years ago when she was part of the gospel/pop sensation, The Staples Singers. ("I'll Take You There.") Today, she's enjoying one of the great, extended comebacks in music history, producing stellar album after album. With some help from Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy.

We're all in it together
Every boy and every girl
We've all got to get it together
Everybody in the world
I gave up on hatin' you
Just for hatin' me
I gave up on hatin' you
A long time ago