The Trump Times

James Freeman replaced James Taranto on the essential Best of the Web Today beat, and here is his first offering:

Who says Donald Trump is against entitlement reform? While he probably won’t propose changes to Medicare or Social Security in his first budget proposal, the President seems eager to consider whether all members of the media establishment should continue to enjoy privileges not available to the average citizen.

CNN and the New York Times are upset they weren’t included in a Friday press briefing at the White House, even though they still had access to media pool reports filed that day. Almost all Americans—and for that matter almost all journalists—were also not invited to the meeting with White House press secretary Sean Spicer. But CNN and the Times seem to feel particularly offended.

CNN’s Jake Tapper said the White House guest list was “not acceptable” and “un-American.” Dean Baquet, executive editor at the Times, called it unprecedented and said, “Free media access to a transparent government is obviously of crucial national interest.” The Times also ran a story this weekend comparing the rhetoric Mr. Trump uses for journalists who peddle “fake news” with the words of Soviet dictator Josef Stalin, who murdered millions of his countrymen.

But even the Times doesn’t think much of this comparison. On Saturday the paper ran a piece taunting Mr. Trump based on the Times conviction that even the highest elected official in the U.S. will ultimately lose a power struggle with Washington’s un-elected establishment. Reporters Glenn Thrush and Michael Grynbaum fault Mr. Trump for “believing he can master an entrenched political press corps with far deeper connections to the permanent government of federal law enforcement and executive department officials than he has.” The Times report adds that the President “is being force-fed lessons all presidents eventually learn — that the iron triangle of the Washington press corps, West Wing staff and federal bureaucracy is simply too powerful to bully.”

CNN’s Jake Tapper said the White House guest list was “not acceptable” and “un-American.” Dean Baquet, executive editor at the Times, called it unprecedented and said, “Free media access to a transparent government is obviously of crucial national interest.” The Times also ran a story this weekend comparing the rhetoric Mr. Trump uses for journalists who peddle “fake news” with the words of Soviet dictator Josef Stalin, who murdered millions of his countrymen.

But even the Times doesn’t think much of this comparison. On Saturday the paper ran a piece taunting Mr. Trump based on the Times conviction that even the highest elected official in the U.S. will ultimately lose a power struggle with Washington’s un-elected establishment. Reporters Glenn Thrush and Michael Grynbaum fault Mr. Trump for “believing he can master an entrenched political press corps with far deeper connections to the permanent government of federal law enforcement and executive department officials than he has.” The Times report adds that the President “is being force-fed lessons all presidents eventually learn — that the iron triangle of the Washington press corps, West Wing staff and federal bureaucracy is simply too powerful to bully.”

When trying to play the sympathetic victim whose rights are being violated, referring to oneself as part of an “iron triangle” is generally not recommended. Also, how often did Soviet dissidents get the chance to force-feed Stalin? If they could have found anything to eat presumably they would have kept it for themselves.

Apparently CNN can’t stick to the script either. The ubiquitous Mr. Grynbaum of the Times observes that both friends and foes of CNN President Jeffrey Zucker “say he can handle — and even relishes — a harsh spotlight.” The piece recounts how, while nibbling on filet mignon at a recent gathering of select reporters, Mr. Zucker said that his team wears Trump insults “as a badge of honor.” The headline notes that Mr. Trump and Mr. Zucker are “2 Presidents Who Love a Spectacle.”

If Mr. Zucker seems unconcerned about the possibility of being sent to the gulag, it’s perhaps because he knows that his First Amendment rights are not threatened. It is not essential to our democracy that the White House gives information first to particular entrenched media incumbents before sharing it with the public. And the First Amendment does not say that the New York Times and CNN must have an edge over smaller competitors.

Every politician has significant discretion over how to reach the public and which media outlets to favor. In 2009 President Obama chose in his first prime-time news conference to recognize a Huffington Post writer, bypassing various newspaper reporters. Mr. Obama also used YouTube to order the FCC to prevent telecom companies from charging YouTube and Netflix market rates for carrying their massive Internet traffic.

Last year the Times ran a front-page story saying that reporters who thought Mr. Trump was a dangerous demagogue “have to throw out the textbook American journalism has been using for the better part of the past half-century, if not longer.” More recently CNN happily broadcast repeated references to an accusation-filled “dossier” of negative rumors about Mr. Trump without bothering to confirm they were true.

The President can be forgiven for thinking that CNN and the Times have been trying to build the case for impeachment since Election Night. He has no obligation to help them. Along with refusing to give them an informational edge on their media competitors, this entitlement reform could be paired with an effort to make more government data available to everyone, and to make it more easily understandable and searchable, empowering amateur and professional journalists alike.

The latest NBC/WSJ poll suggests the issue could resonate. A full 86% of respondents agree with the following statement: “For too long, a small group in our nation’s capital has reaped the rewards of government while the people have borne the cost.” Also, a majority in the survey believe that the “news media and other elites are exaggerating the problems with the Trump Administration because they are uncomfortable and threatened with the kind of change that Trump represents.”

The survey sample skews Democratic, yet survey respondents have become more optimistic in the Trump era. Now 40% think the country’s headed “in the right direction,” compared to 33% two months ago and just 20% in December of 2015. Mr. Trump’s approval ratings, while still low by presidential standards, are also improving. And perhaps that’s what is most upsetting to CNN and the New York Times.

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