• Promising to “open up” the country’s libel laws so as to make it easier to sue media organizations;
• Denying press credentials to various news organizations based on unfavorable coverage. They include the The Post, Politico, the Daily Beast, Univision, Fusion, the Des Moines Register and the Huffington Post;
• Suing a former campaign aide for violating a confidentiality agreement by speaking with the media;
• Hassling reporters for not staying in their designated pen at rallies;
• Boycotting a Fox News debate over vague concerns about one of its hosts;
• Hyping a bogus National Enquirer story that spun conspiracy theories about the father of Ted Cruz;
The campaign of Hillary Clinton has offended the notion of a free press in some of the following ways:
• Herding media reps into a roped-off area at a New Hampshire event in 2015;
• Failing to make herself available to reporters on the campaign trail and in news-conference settings.
It’s a lopsided tally, no matter your politics.
Yet two highly respected Washington reporters — Carol Lee of the Wall Street Journal and Jeff Mason of Reuters (outgoing and incoming presidents of the White House Correspondents’ Association) — see nothing but equivalence. They have co-authored a piece in USA Today under the headline “Trump, Clinton both threaten free press.” The gist emerges from these two paragraphs:
The public’s right to know is infringed if certain reporters are banned from a candidate’s events because the candidate doesn’t like a story they have written or broadcast, as Donald Trump has done.Similarly, refusing to regularly answer questions from reporters in a press conference, as Hillary Clinton has, deprives the American people of hearing from their potential commander-in-chief in a format that is critical to ensuring he or she is accountable for policy positions and official acts.
That’s preposterous. Yes, Clinton has a deep-set distrust of the media; she’d rather talk to voters and pretend that campaign-trail reporters just don’t exist. “Look, she hates you. Period. That’s never going to change,” a Clinton veteran once told a Politico reporter. Her e-mail setup at the State Department attests to a policy of secrecy that defeats government transparency and a drains a critical feeding tube for investigative reporting — FOIA. In other campaign cycles, her treatment of the media would stand out.
Not in 2016, however. Trump has shown not only a personal animus toward independent, investigative reporting, via bans on certain outlets and insults hurled at particular reporters; he has also vowed to somehow pursue a policy — loosening libel laws — that would cripple criticism of elected officials. If elected, he’d turn the White House into a staging area for non-disclosure agreements. And to give credit where it’s due, he has made himself extraordinarily available to certain media outlets.
On balance, though, Trump is a hazard to the media; Clinton runs from it. Veteran reporters like Lee and Mason are trained to draw such distinctions, yet they appear to believe that the concept of fairness requires a finding of equal culpability between the presidential contenders.