OF ALL the mind-dizzying hypocrisies that have emanated from President Trump’s communications office, it is hard to find any more outlandish than claiming to “support a free press” while barring a reporter from an open White House event simply because it didn’t like her questions. Outlandish, but not laughable; there’s nothing amusing about the administration’s retaliation against CNN correspondent Kaitlan Collins. It underscores — again — the White House’s contempt for the critical role played by the media in a free society.
“Highly unusual and possibly unprecedented” is how Post reporters characterized the decision, delivered by press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders and communications director Bill Shine, to block Ms. Collins from attending an event Wednesday afternoon in the Rose Garden. Earlier that day, during what is known as a press-pool “spray” in the Oval Office, Ms. Collins sought to question the president about Mr. Trump’s invitation to Russian President Vladimir Putin and the recently released recording between Mr. Trump and his former attorney discussing a possible payoff to a former Playboy model. The questions, Ms. Collins said she was later told, were inappropriate, and so she was barred from covering the Rose Garden event.
We get that there are issues that Mr. Trump may prefer on any given day not to discuss, but Ms. Collins, that day’s pool reporter representing the TV networks, was — as numerous other White House reporters have pointed out — asking the obvious questions raised by the day’s events. Mr. Trump didn’t, as he demonstrated by ignoring Ms. Collins, have to answer the questions. Note, though, that he has welcomed similar occasions with the press to get his points across. Note, too, that his administration has inflated the value of such questioning by limiting the traditional venues — daily briefings, presidential news conferences — for the press to ask questions.
Counselor to the president Kellyanne Conway talked about the need for “civility” and “respect” from the media. We have to think she was really aiming her remarks at her boss, given his incessant talk and tweets about “fake news,” egging on the heckling of reporters, and singling out and threatening individuals and institutions. No doubt he thinks sowing distrust of the press serves his purposes, but thankfully there are some small promising signs of backlash to his strongman methods. So chagrined was the Veterans of Foreign Wars about treatment of the media at its recent convention in Kansas City, Mo., that it put out a statement of support and appreciation for the press. And the White House press corps, ultra-competitive though it is, showed important solidarity in letting the White House know it had crossed a dangerous line by barring a disfavored reporter from a briefing.