The Republican Party seems to be learning the lesson that Donald Trump began teaching during his time in office.
That lesson is simple: Don’t play by the media’s rules and don’t try to win their approval. It’s not a game you’ll ever win, and Trump managed to have a largely successful presidency (in terms of many of its policies) being unencumbered by the whims of the media as other presidents have been in the past.
For reasons that escape many of us, there are Republican politicians who try to shape their statements, policies, and interviews around what the media wants to talk about or hear about. There are many Republicans who still think that using the press to get their message out, and that access to the media, is important.
But doing so on the media’s terms is never the unbiased situation it’s supposed to be. Journalists have become increasingly hostile to Republicans, joining in Democrats’ talking point of the GOP going all-in on extremism, continuing to push Republicans as supporters of insurrection, etc. There’s no trying to win with the media because they are not an unbiased, objective industry. They are complicit in, and even crafters of, the Democratic narrative nine times out of ten.
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Earlier this week, we saw several stories cropping up about Republicans shutting out the media. It started with a piece in New York Magazine on Monday, with a Republican adviser straight-up saying they don’t see the point.
“I just don’t even see what the point is anymore,” said an adviser to one likely GOP presidential aspirant, who requested anonymity to discuss press strategy. “We know reporters always disagreed with the Republican Party, but it used to be you thought you could get a fair shake. Now every reporter, and every outlet, is just chasing resistance rage-clicks.”
The problem with this piece, however, is that the writer proves the adviser’s point in the very next paragraph.
A competing theory of the case is that there is really not much Republicans can say. The past six years have seen them rally behind a person almost all of them once denounced as dangerously unfit for public office — even as their most dire 2015-era warnings proved true. Any decent profile writer would have to ask, until some kind of satisfactory answer was achieved, what they saw during the Trump administration that made them change their stance. In the case of Cruz, what explains the flip from describing Trump as an immoral bully to writing a glowing profile of him for the Time “100” issue? I changed my mind because I wanted to win reelection and become a powerful politician is typically not a satisfactory answer.
The Washington Post and Vanity Fair likewise had lamentations on the GOP shutting out the press on Tuesday. From the Post:
“We in the state of Florida are not going to allow legacy media outlets to be involved in our primaries,” DeSantis reportedly told the crowd of more than a thousand conservatives, who had paid at least $100 to attend the summit. “I’m not going to have a bunch of left-wing media people asking our candidates gotcha questions.”
A campaign spokeswoman followed up those remarks with a tweet aimed at “fake news journalists” — a picture of DeSantis onstage.
“How’s the view from outside security?” she asked.
The campaign committed to the bit; questions about how the credentialed outlets were selected, or whether anyone was recording the debates for the record, went unanswered. Reporters who were kept outside wrote stories anyway, cadging recordings of the conference and talking to attendees and candidates.
By the way, is it any wonder Ron DeSantis wouldn’t let major media outlets in? 60 Minutes is still standing by its horrendous hit job on DeSantis from last year, and few outlets have stepped up to condemn them for it. Most outlets have also tried to take shots at him. There’s no difference between letting in the media and letting in Charlie Crist.
Anyway, here is the bit is from Vanity Fair:
Trump shattered precedent during the 2016 election cycle through his campaign’s media blacklist, with numerous outlets, including the Washington Post, Politico, and BuzzFeed, refused press credentials to cover his public events. Trump, who complained about the presidential debate process during both his campaigns, refused to participate in one in 2020. This 2022 midterms cycle, GOP primary candidates in battleground states have clamped down on media access and increasingly avoided debates–forums traditionally moderated by the media. “Over a half dozen GOP candidates in crucial state and federal races have either skipped out on or not committed to primary debates,” ABC News reported back in April, noting that there are “ripple effects” of candidates opting out of debating.
The future of presidential debates also remains to be seen, as the Republican National Committee in April “voted unanimously” to withdraw from the Commission on Presidential Debates, the nonpartisan organization that has organized that has hosted the debates for more than three decades. The move came after the RNC accused the commission, which includes Republican and Democratic co-chairs, of being biased, echoing attacks Trump repeatedly leveled on the group. “Debates are an important part of the democratic process,” RNC Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel said in a statement at the time, vowing that the party was “going to find newer, better debate platforms” without specifying what those would be.
AP Photo/Julia Nikhinson
This is all right and proper. Under normal circumstances, the idea that we should block media outlets from press events, speeches, and even debates is a bad idea, but under normal circumstances, the media would not be operating as activists for one side and openly attacking the other. Some journalists at “blacklisted” operations are good journalists, and it sucks to see them lumped in with the organization as a whole, but the management at those outlets have let their reporters, anchors, and others get away with activism instead of journalism for far too long. They need to be reminded what their job is and that there are consequences to violating their duties as journalists.
Not that it’s a lesson they’ll learn. In fact, a column at POLITICO does little more than threaten the GOP if they don’t open up to the press again.
When a politician bans the press, the press has no alternative to dig deeper to find a story. As New Yorker writer Patrick Radden Keefe recently noted, he’s an advocate of the “writearound,” in which a reporter, when denied access to his subject, mines oral histories, letters, memoirs, emails, court testimony and previous interviews for material, and talks to the subject familiars.
A candidate can maintain a cone of silence, but he can’t stop the flow of information. As Weigel wrote, reporters can interview the attendees from the events they’ve been excluded from or listen to recordings of events.
The sugar high that accompanies the act of telling a New York Times reporter to get lost must be acknowledged. Whenever I feel depressed, I call a Times reporter just to tell him I won’t talk to him. But going mute also makes the candidate look weak. It becomes part of their story. And it gives the foes of taciturn Republicans an opportunity to land a punch. “My opponent is too chicken to face the New York Times. How well is he going to do with Vladimir Putin?”
There are more points in there, but look at what the writer is saying: We can do our jobs without you speaking to us, and we will continue digging for stuff you don’t want us to ask you about. They can write the same garbage they were writing before without talking to Republicans.
The official GOP response to this column should be “Don’t threaten us with a good time.”
If you don’t let us into your press events, we’ll give you bad coverage is one hell of a response to the GOP shutting out the media because they routinely give bad (and dishonest) coverage. It’s almost like they actually want to be shut out so that it gives them license to really embrace their resistance literotica.
There is no reason Republicans should read any of these headlines and worry that they’re making a mistake. The media has done a horrible job of being objective in the Trump and post-Trump era (not that they were great at it prior). They should not be rewarded with access to events and their hit jobs made easier. At the very least, make them work harder for it.
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