During my time as a spokesman for President Obama, I spent all day, every day, talking with reporters. It shaved years off my life. I took their calls before 5 a.m. and answered their emails late at night. I screamed at them and pleaded with them. I complained about stories to their faces and behind their backs. I bitched and moaned about coverage that I felt was unfair or frivolous or just plain stupid. (Remember Obama’s tan suit?) Despite all of it, when I departed the White House in March of 2013, I left more convinced than ever that a tough, vibrant, well-funded press corps is a foundational piece of our democracy.
I’m aware that a former political flak may be an imperfect messenger to push for increased media access, but I’m speaking out because I know firsthand how important that access is. Like many in the media, I’ve been troubled by President-elect Donald Trump’s ever-more contemptuous approach to the press—and even more concerned about the inability of the press corps to respond in a united, meaningful way.
Trump’s hostility to the press isn’t new. During the campaign, he promised to change libel laws to make it easier to sue news outlets. At different times during the campaign, his campaign refused to credential reporters from Univision, BuzzFeed, Politico, The Daily Beast, The Washington Post, The Huffington Post, and the Des Moines Register. At his rallies, he has called reporters “disgusting,” “dishonest,” “slime,” “scum,” and “sleaze.” His crowds, taking their cue from Trump, reveled in chants of “CNN sucks!” and worse in the race’s final weeks.