Is this any way to run a blacklist?
Donald Trump has made no secret of his dislike for the news media, which he has variously labeled with the three D’s (“dirty,” “disgusting” and “dishonest”). But some media outlets clearly are worse than others to Trump, who has banned nearly a dozen of them from his campaign rallies and public events.
Just don’t try to figure out why some are out and others are still in good standing.
There is little rhyme or reason to the way Trump has gone about punishing disfavored journalists and news organizations. Trump banned the Des Moines Register last summer after it published an editorial that urged him to drop out of the race, for example. But the Wall Street Journal suggested something similar in an editorial earlier this month — with no reaction from Trump.
Similarly, The Washington Post was banned by Trump from his public events in mid-June after it ran a disputed headline (“Donald Trump suggests President Obama was involved with Orlando shooting”). But MSNBC, CBS News and the Atlantic published nearly identical headlines at the same time with no response from Trump.
Britain’s Daily Mail tabloid hasn’t been banned, although it was threatened with a lawsuit this week from Trump’s attorney after it published an article suggesting that Melania Trump was a call girl before she met Donald. There were no threats, legal or otherwise, from Donald Trump, however, when the New York Post published nude photos of Melania Trump on its front page.
Despite a recent fusillade of tweets criticizing TV news coverage, no TV network or reporter is banned. Yet Politico, the Huffington Post, the Daily Beast and BuzzFeed, among others, remain on Trump’s blacklist, for reasons that few people remember anymore.
Which is to say that Trump’s habit of banning news outlets isn’t just unprecedented for a presidential candidate — it also seems entirely arbitrary.
The New York Times isn’t banned, although Trump has singled out the newspaper for criticism multiple times, even branding it “the failing New York Times.” Among other stories, Trump has objected to a Times article published this month that portrayed his aides as exasperated and his mood as “sullen and erratic.”
At a recent rally in Connecticut, he suggested he might revoke the Times’ credentials to cover his rallies and events. He hasn’t.
“He has certainly been critical of us,” said Dean Baquet, the Times’ editor. But Baquet called the paper’s coverage “appropriately questioning” and said that a ban would make little sense. “We can still get into most rallies,” he said. “We can watch television. We can interview people.”
One theory circulating among journalists is that Trump has realized that banning news organizations has played badly with the public, especially after he declared The Post verboten in June. He hasn’t banned another news outlet since (although he did call reporters “the lowest form of humanity” at a rally this month).
On the other hand, Trump also uses the work of banned outlets when it’s to his advantage. His campaign regularly emails supporters and journalists articles critical of Hillary Clinton from The Post and Politico, two outlets on his blacklist.
“The Trump team has made it clear their candidate runs against the media as a tactic to distract supporters and avoid being held accountable,” said John Avlon, the editor of the Daily Beast. “The bans are an example of this, and their arbitrary application reflects the chaos inside the Trump campaign. The Daily Beast continues to be blacklisted because we insist on a fact-based debate and reporting without fear or favor. We consider it a badge of honor.”
The Trump campaign did not respond to a request for comment for this article.
As a practical matter, journalists say that being on Trump’s banned list makes it more difficult, but not impossible, to cover him.
“Overall, the blacklist mostly remains a matter of minor but kind of comical inconvenience,” said Katherine Miller, political editor of BuzzFeed, which Trump has banned since he announced he was running. “Our coverage of Trump and his campaign has been widely recognized. If we were off the blacklist, we wouldn’t approach that coverage any differently.”
The ban on The Post includes a prohibition on flying on the chartered press plane that follows Trump to his events. This has forced the paper to deploy multiple reporters flying on commercial flights, a more expensive proposition, said Steven Ginsberg, the paper’s senior politics editor. The Post’s reporters also must arrive hours early to get into Trump’s events via general-admission entrances, which Ginsberg calls “a challenge but not an impediment.”
Miller said Trump has never given her organization a formal reason for its presence on his blacklist, “so it’s hard to conclusively say what lands an outlet” there. But BuzzFeed probably landed in hot water with the Republican nominee long before he was even a candidate. The website called Trump’s political ambitions “a long con” in a lengthy piece in February 2014, which may have marked BuzzFeed as an early entry on Trump’s media enemies list.
The larger issue, suggests BuzzFeed’s Miller, is what Trump’s inexplicable pattern of banning media outlets says about how he will act if he’s elected.
“I think if there’s an element most worth concern, it’s the opaqueness of that process,” she said, “and what it portends for how a President Trump would deal with issues like this, whether they concern the media or any other function of that office.”