[…] Now, before the Committee to Protect Journalists throws up the batsign and the rest of us bemoan Trump’s actions as anti-press—which they are—let’s thank the incoming president for simplifying our mission. If Trump’s idea of a news conference is to spank the press, if his lieutenants believe the press needs shutting down, if his chief of staff wants to speculate about moving the White House press scrum off the premises, perhaps reporters ought to take the hint and prepare to cover his administration on their own terms. Instead of relying exclusively on the traditional skills of political reporting, the carriers of press cards ought to start thinking of covering Trump’s Washington like a war zone, where conflict follows conflict, where the fog prevents the collection of reliable information directly from the combatants, where the assignment is a matter of life or death.
In his own way, Trump has set us free. Reporters must treat Inauguration Day as a kind of Liberation Day to explore news outside the usual Washington circles. He has been explicit in his disdain for the press and his dislike for press conferences, prickly to the nth degree about being challenged and known for his vindictive way with those who cross him. So, forget about the White House press room. It’s time to circle behind enemy lines.
Washington reporting has long depended on a transactional relationship between sources and journalists. Journalists groom sources, but sources also groom journalists. There’s nothing inherently unethical about the back-scratching. When a reporter calls an administration source to confirm an embarrassing item, the source may agree to confirm as long as the reporter at the very least agrees to listen sympathetically to the administration’s context. But Trump’s hostile attitude attitude toward the press, his dismissal of CNN for attempting to ask a question at the last conference, and his underhanded ploy at the last conference where he loaded the audience with cheerleaders has muted that mutualism. It’s easy to predict that instead of negotiating with reporters as equals, his administration will advance its agenda by feeding more pliant reporters material the way a trainer rewards circus animals.