The Post and the New York Times were missing from the delivery of print newspapers to the White House on Thursday, according to the Wall Street Journal. The Journal also reports that Trump is “planning to instruct federal agencies to not renew their subscriptions” to the two newspapers.
A few takeaways jump to mind: 1.) Trump is bored with the same old complaints about fake news, so adding this latest episode represents a way to spice up his media attacks; 2.) Trump is about to join the legions of Twitter users who claim to have canceled their New York Times subscriptions because the newspaper allegedly normalizes him; and 3.) Trump has a history of critiquing news outlets — most notably, CNN — whose output he claims not to consume; expect that pattern to continue with the New York Times and The Post.
That’s not all, however. Trump is nearing the one-year anniversary of its attempts to revoke or suspend the press passes of journalists covering the White House. Just after the mid-term elections in 2018, CNN White House reporter Jim Acosta found his credentials revoked after a verbal confrontation with the president in a news conference. This past summer, White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham slapped Playboy reporter Brian Karem with a 30-day suspension over a July 11 contretemps in the Rose Garden.
In both cases, legal challenges stopped the White House dead in its suppressive tracks. Precedent in the form of Sherrill v. Knight, a 1977 case involving White House credentials, established the principle that the "interest of a bona fide Washington correspondent in obtaining a White House press pass is protected by the First Amendment.” Any move to mess with the pass, accordingly, needed to embrace various due-process standards. Court rulings quickly landed both Acosta and Karem back on White House grounds.
In a signal that Trump just cannot bear to admit defeat, the Justice Department in late September announced that it would appeal the decision in the Karem case. On a practical level, there’s little to continue fighting about, considering that Karem had already served most of his suspension by the time U.S. District Judge Rudolph Contreras issued his ruling. Contreras had found that Karem would likely prevail with arguments that the White House hadn’t provided due process before issuing the suspension.
Since the Contreras ruling, however, Karem and his attorney Ted Boutrous appear to have solidified another argument against press-pass revocation — namely, that these actions stem from “viewpoint discrimination," or the idea that the adverse actions stem from Trump’s distaste for the questions, scribblings and broadcasts of certain outlets. Such content-based discrimination is a full-throated affront to the First Amendment.
Just days after Contreras’s ruling, Trump issued a tweet reflecting viewpoint discrimination:
The Washington Post’s @PhilipRucker (Mr. Off the Record) & @AshleyRParker, two nasty lightweight reporters, shouldn’t even be allowed on the grounds of the White House because their reporting is so DISGUSTING & FAKE. Also, add the appointment of MANY Federal Judges this Summer! https://t.co/7d33tzKxXq— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 7, 2019
That tweet, Boutrous told the Erik Wemple Blog, "will be powerful evidence in our appeal and in any future case — an express admission — that this White House is wielding the hard pass credentialing process as a weapon to punish and chill reporters who publish stories the president doesn’t like. It’s truly brazen and shows a total disrespect for basic First Amendment principles.”
A similar dynamic, says Boutrous, applies to this latest incident: “This is a petty, but symbolic, act that adds more concrete evidence to the existing mountain that President Trump engages in viewpoint discrimination against members of the press when he doesn’t like their truthful coverage. This time, instead of banning certain reporters, he is banning the actual newspapers from the White House.”
The Erik Wemple Blog asked Grisham for any comment on the impact of the un-subscriptions on the appeal. “Not sure what one has to do with the other?” she responded. When we abridged Boutrous’s argument, she replied, “People can pick up newspapers whenever and wherever they want.”