The old axiom that “politics stops at the water's edge” isn't really true, and it is clear that media bashing doesn't end when the president travels abroad, either.
A television camera on Monday captured President Trump and first lady Melania Trump commiserating with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife, Sara, over critical media coverage — which, they agreed, does not accurately reflect public sentiment. (Note: Trump's approval rating is 38 percent, according to Gallup; Netanyahu's is about the same in Israel.)
When Trump paid a visit to the Western Wall on his first day in Israel, female journalists were restricted to an area with a worse vantage point than that available to their male counterparts. Quoting a pool report, the New York Times's Glenn Thrush noted on Twitter that this was not the first time female reporters have been disadvantaged on the president's multi-stop foreign trip.
When the president's daughter, Ivanka Trump, addressed a group of Saudi female business executives in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, on Sunday, The Washington Post's Karen DeYoung reported that “two female reporters present were not permitted to stay past the introductory remarks.”
Also on Sunday, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson participated in a news conference in Riyadh without notifying American journalists of the event. Only foreign reporters attended and had opportunities to ask questions. The State Department later furnished a transcript to American journalists.
“Regrettably, there was not enough time to alert or make arrangements for U.S. media to participate,” State Department spokesman R.C. Hammond told Politico. “Under different circumstances, U.S. media would have been alerted. … Ideally, members of the U.S. press corps should have had the option to attend the press conference and ask questions.”
In a vacuum, any one of these incidents might be somewhat understandable. Maybe the Trumps were just trying to make small talk with the Netanyahus. Maybe the administration feels compelled for diplomatic reasons to acquiesce to certain gender norms in foreign countries. Maybe the Tillerson news conference was a genuine oversight.
Taken together, however, the episodes fit into a pattern of disregard for a free press. Occurring overseas, they send a particularly strong signal to the rest of the world that the Trump administration does not value independent media.
Consider this contrast: When Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev visited the United States in 1959, he refused to speak at the National Press Club unless female journalists were allowed to cover the event on the floor, with their male colleagues. Women had been granted access to press club events only three years earlier and had been relegated to a balcony, from where they could not ask questions.
Think about that. The leader of the Soviet Union stood up for American female journalists on a foreign trip 58 years ago. The president of the United States seems unwilling to do the same today.