Over the weekend, another tiff broke out after incoming Trump Chief of Staff Reince Priebus said the new administration might evict the White House press corps from its lodgings in the West Wing, perhaps to the Old Executive Office Building next door, which also includes administration offices. Priebus and other Trump aides said no decision has been made yet, though the White House Correspondents Association moved to condemn even the idea.
“I made clear that the WHCA would view it as unacceptable if the incoming administration sought to move White House reporters out of the press work space behind the press briefing room,” WHCA President Jeff Mason told Politico. “Access in the West Wing to senior administration officials, including the press secretary, is critical to transparency and to journalists’ ability to do their jobs.”
The Trump transition team was also initially dismissive of the stories about Crowley. “HarperCollins—one of the largest and most respected publishers in the world—published her book which has become a national best-seller,” a spokesperson told CNN. “Any attempt to discredit Monica is nothing more than a politically motivated attack that seeks to distract from the real issues facing this country.” That was the party line right up until the moment when Crowley announced she would not take the job. “After much reflection, I have decided to remain in New York to pursue other opportunities and will not be taking a position in the incoming administration,” she said.
In some ways, Crowley’s demise seemed inevitable. The transition team’s borrowing of HarperCollins’ credibility evaporated as soon as the publisher announced it was yanking Crowley’s book while it assessed the content. And since Crowley’s resume was built on her Ph.D. and her career as a pundit— she has little in the way of government national-security experience—there was no real justification for her job once those pillars were knocked out.
Or rather, it would have seemed inevitable in what used to be thought of as normal times. But given the extent to which Trump defied standard procedure, surviving a range of moments during the campaign that almost certainly would have been fatal for any other candidate, and given his defiance of the press, it wasn’t inconceivable that Crowley would try ride out the storm.
There are a few possible lessons to be drawn from this. One is that when you’re caught with hands as red as Crowley’s, there’s simply no good comeback. A second, related one is that Trump was far more willing to jettison a minor figure like Crowley than he would be a closer confidant or a Cabinet candidate, and indeed stories about other nominees, from Rex Tillerson to Tom Price to Scott Pruitt, have not derailed them so far.
There are more structural lessons as well. The White House press corps has been the subject of a long string of critiques in recent years. The reporters in the Brady Briefing Room are squeezed on two sides—by successive administrations that have worked to close off their access to the president as much as possible, and by the impression (not unrelated) that few big stories come out of the White House beat anyway. In a column over the weekend, Jack Shafer celebrated Trump’s rise as the logical end of this process:
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.
That means focusing in other directions, from executive-branch agencies to Congress, Shafer wrote. The Crowley stories are one example of that, and it’s a juicy slab of poetic justice that they were spearheaded by CNN—the very network Trump ignored and berated as “fake news” during his press conference.