With just two months to go before Election Day, Donald Trump has dropped a ban on about a dozen news organizations whose reporting about him he deemed unfair.
Trump’s unexpected softening on Wednesday gratified the affected media organizations, which nevertheless said that it had been unwarranted and antidemocratic in the first place.
“It’s great that the Trump campaign seems to have finally discovered freedom of the press,” said John Avlon, editor in chief of the Daily Beast, which Trump banned from covering his events last year. “But it’s a case of too little, too late. [The campaign’s] impulse to block principled critics for the vast majority of this campaign shows the candidate’s fundamental discomfort with being held accountable.”
The Republican standard-bearer began stripping news organizations of their access to his news conferences and campaign events not long after he announced his candidacy in June of last year. The Washington Post was the last and largest of about a dozen outlets that the Republican nominee targeted. Others included the Huffington Post, the Daily Beast, Politico and BuzzFeed.
The bans, apparently unprecedented by a major-party candidate, also prevented reporters at blacklisted news organizations from flying on the press charter that follows Trump around the country. Although the restrictions have created an inconvenience, forcing reporters to seek general-admission tickets to his rallies and to fly on commercial flights, the affected news organizations say the ban has not deterred them from covering Trump.
As such, the blacklist was mostly symbolic, signaling to voters that the nominee would take harsh measures to retaliate against reporters if he did not find their work to his liking. In banning The Post in mid-June, for example, he called the paper “dishonest” and “phony.”
Trump told CNN on Wednesday that he was dropping the ban because “I figure they can’t treat me any worse.”
Journalists, naturally, welcomed Trump’s pivot.
“Revoking press credentials was imprudent, pointless and offensive from the start,” said Post Executive Editor Martin Baron. “We’re pleased to see the ban come to a long-overdue end.”
Politico editor Susan Glasser offered a similar sentiment: “Access to a major party’s presidential campaign events shouldn’t be a favor to be granted or withheld to the independent media depending on how the candidate views the coverage, and we are glad the Trump campaign has decided to take this step.”
Trump has been a consistent critic of the media during his campaign; at one rally this summer, he pointed to the press pen and told supporters that the media was “the lowest form of humanity.”
Trump’s blacklist surprised journalists when he began imposing it last year, first on BuzzFeed, which has never received credentials from his campaign. The online publication was never given an official explanation, but people at the publication suspect it was a result of a 2014 story dismissing Trump’s interest in a presidential run.
On Wednesday, BuzzFeed political editor Katherine Miller welcomed the end of the ban. “As we’ve said, we’re proud of our coverage of Donald Trump, and we wouldn’t change the way we approach that work regardless of the access we do or do not have,” she said. “We are happy the blacklist is over, though.”
Some journalists privately said Trump began to reconsider his restrictions after his inclusion of The Post on the blacklist created a backlash among some voters, who considered it draconian and authoritarian.
His reversal on the policy follows Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton’s recent meetings with reporters on her campaign plane; Trump has criticized Clinton for not holding news conferences.