Trump’s Not The First To Try To Control the Drip Drip Drip

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Media are joining in on the hysteria about the Trump Administration’s efforts to control federal government communications.

“Federal agencies are clamping down on public information and social media in the early days of Donald Trump’s presidency, limiting employees’ ability to issue news releases, tweet, make policy pronouncements or otherwise communicate with the outside world, according to memos and sources from multiple agencies,” Politico reported today, Jan. 25.

Willamette Week jumped on the bandwagon today as well, telling readers, “Send us tips, oppressed comrades!”

“Got information that would make a great story, but worried about revealing who you are? (Because you work for, say, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency under President Trump?) WW has two new ways to send tips without disclosing your identity,” WW said.

“It’s a dark time right now,” because of Trump Administration restrictions on the use of social media and other channels by government employees, a former Obama administration spokeswoman told Politico. “From what we can tell, the cloud of Mordor is descending across the federal service,” added Jeff Ruch, executive director of the watchdog group Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility.

Before everybody goes off the deep end on all this, assuming it’s something new under the sun with the evil Trump, let’s step back a bit.

Every administration in recent memory has tried mightily to control the flow of information it doesn’t want disclosed from its agencies, with varying degrees of success.

In 1962, President Kennedy approved the wiretapping of a New York Times reporter and then set in motion Project Mockingbird, illegal CIA domestic surveillance on American reporters.

Richard Nixon fought leaks to the media with a vengeance. After an initial honeymoon with the media, he later distrusted them and fought them tooth and nail, believing coverage of him was deeply biased. And, frankly, it was. As Politico’s John Aloysius Farrell wrote in 2014, “Just because he was paranoid doesn’t mean the media wasn’t out to get him.”

A recent report commissioned by the Committee to Protect Journalists blasted the Obama administration for being overly aggressive in controlling government communications with the media, too, saying its information disclosure policies had a“…chilling effect on accountability.”

“The war on leaks and other efforts to control information are the most aggressive I’ve seen since the Nixon administration,” said Leonard Downie, a former Washington Post executive who authored the study.

David Sanger, the chief Washington correspondent for the New York Times, said in the report: “This is the most closed, control-freak administration I’ve ever covered.”

The report told of how the Obama administration used the 1917 Espionage Act to prosecute leakers and created the “Insider Threat Program” requiring government employees to help prevent leaks to the media by monitoring their colleagues’ behavior.

The report also described how the Justice Department secretly subpoenaed and seized all the records for 20 Associated Press telephone lines and switchboards for two months of 2012, after an AP investigation into a covert CIA operation in Yemen.

“Put all these together and it paints a pretty damning picture of an administration that talks about openness and transparency but isn’t willing to engage with the media around these issues,” said Joel Simon, executive director of the Committee to Protect Journalists.

So before everybody goes ballistic, singling out Trump’s efforts to tightly manage public pronouncements and minimize leaks, consider that he’s part of a long line of presidents who have fought hard to do the same.

That’s just a fact. Depressing, isn’t it.

Creating A New Blue Bubble

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One week after Donald Trump’s inauguration, editors from CNN, Slate, Univision, The New Yorker, and The Huffington Post plan to huddle for a discussion on how to cover the Trump presidency.

The collusion has begun.

“Join Slate for a conversation with top editors in New York about how the news media can and should proceed to cover the Trump presidency,” says an e-mail making its way around the major media universe. “The panel will discuss strategies they are implementing at their outlets, and how journalists and media companies at large can play a bigger role in making sure that fact prevails over fiction in the coming months and years.”

The e-mail, reported by Mediaite, says proceeds from the Jan. 25 event at the NYU Skirball Center will go to the Committee to Protect Journalists, a nonprofit dedicated to the global defense of press freedom. This is the same committee actress Meryl Streep urged people to support in her controversial Golden Globe remarks.

Slate is bringing the media together to advance a liberal  post-election agenda, just as the Democratic Party is using the confirmation process for Trump’s cabinet nominees as a first step in a rebuilding effort.

“That effort includes getting opposition research and outside messaging groups into high gear, fundraising off of certain confirmation hearing highlights or controversies regarding some  nominees, and coming up with a way to paint the administration they will run against in four years in an unflattering light,” said Caitlin Huey-Burns in Real Clear Politics.

The gathering is consistent with a call by New York Times media columnist Jim Rutenberg for reporters to present “a united front”.

A united front for press freedom is an admirable goal. A united front to attack a presidency is not.

But if you regularly follow Slate, Univision, The New Yorker, and The Huffington Post, they are already consistent in their disparagement of Trump and his coterie of advisers and supporters.

The current New Yorker, for example, has a cover portraying Trump as a child taking off in the family car with the hope he’ll be apprehended before he can do too much damage.

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The magazine itself features multiple stories denigrating Trump and his allies. One accuses Trump of being “a clumsy bigfoot” with his comments on contributions to his campaign from an L.L. Bean family member. Other stories lambaste Trump’s inaugural festivities, liken Trump to Ray Kroc, the founder of McDonalds, in an upcoming movie that “conspires to smooth any wrinkles of villainy”, and take on Peter Thiel, a Silicon Valley venture capitalist and Trump supporter, in an odd piece about his views on Star Trek vs. Star Wars,

This all reminds me of the much-maligned JournoList, a private Google Groups forum for discussing politics and the media with membership consisting of 400 left-leaning journalists, pundits, academics and others. The forum, active during 2007-10, was accused of encouraging and facilitating coordinated messaging supporting liberal views, though many critics asserted any conspiracy theory was overblown.

JournoList did display, however, the inclination for the progressive community to bond over common political and personal biases. The new Slate-driven consortium of progressive publications is likely to head in the same direction, reinforcing their blue bubble as they battle Trump and his policies.

As Wall Street Journal columnist Peggy Noonan wrote shortly after the election:

“Much of the mainstream, legacy media continues its self-disgrace. Having failed to kill Donald Trump ’s candidacy they will now aim at his transition. Soon they will try to kill his presidency.”