Newt Gingrich has a new proposal for the Trump administration’s efforts to delegitimize and weaken critical journalists: turn White House press briefings into a “town hall” format where presumably hand-picked citizens would join the “total left-wing propagandists” in the press corps, while banning the most critical reporters from asking questions.
Gingrich, a former speaker of the House, Fox News contributor, and sometime adviser to President Donald Trump, has urged the new administration to use the power of the White House to shatter the credibility and influence of the press. He previously said the administration should respond to critical coverage from CNN by blackballing a reporter for months and including more “courteous,” less “adversarial” journalists from local outlets, in addition to “propaganda organizations” like CNN and The New York Times.
During a January 23 interview on Fox & Friends, Gingrich suggested moving the briefings to a “larger auditorium” in order to allow “one-fourth or one-half of the people at the press conference to be citizens.” “Are you suggesting that it’s kind of like a town hall with some journalists in it?” responded co-host Steve Doocy. “Sure,” Gingrich replied.
Gingrich also discussed the plan during a speech at the Heritage Foundation, where he asked, “Why pretend that your mortal enemies are the people who ought to ask you questions?” He added, “If you took the people who sit in the front two rows” at the press briefing and reviewed their Trump commentary, “you’d ask yourself why would any rational person allow these people to ask questions. You don’t have an obligation to be a masochist.”
Presenting his briefing before a studio audience would allow White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer to adopt the anti-press strategies Trump deployed on the campaign trail. The crowd could jeer critical questions from journalists and cheer Spicer’s attacks on the media.
He would also have the option of taking presumably easier questions not only from sycophantic pro-Trump outlets, but from Trump supporters in the audience.
This seems like an absurd plan. But it is entirely consistent with the Trump administration’s view of the press. It doesn’t see journalists as a valuable part of the democratic process, or even as a necessary evil. Instead, they are “hate objects,” an enemy to be crushed, publicly, for the enjoyment of their supporters.
Trump’s fans don’t care if reporters can get their questions answered at press briefings. The right-wing media has primed them for decades to see the media as unacceptably liberal and dishonest. But to watch the White House press secretary -- or the president -- grind adversarial reporters into the dirt to the crowd’s applause? That is the WWE-style entertainment for which they yearn.
Gingrich’s call for the White House to refuse to answer questions from critical reporters echoed Trump ally Sean Hannity’s post-election claim that “until members of the media come clean about colluding with the Clinton campaign and admit that they knowingly broke every ethical standard they are supposed to uphold, they should not have the privilege, they should not have the responsibility of covering the president on behalf of you, the American people.”
Gingrich presented his plan as retaliation for Time magazine reporter Zeke Miller falsely reporting via Twitter that the Martin Luther King Jr. bust had been removed from the Oval Office when Trump replaced Obama. Miller corrected his report, offered an apology to his colleagues, and deleted the tweet within an hour after learning that the bust had been “obscured by an agent and door.”
Asked about her interview with Chuck Todd, Gingrich commented, “We’ve got to start talking about mainstream propaganda. They're not news stories. They're not news outlets. Chuck’s not a newsman. All these people are propagandists for the left.” He went on to say that Miller’s report had been “a big deal because it was part of an underlying effort to say that Trump is a racist at a time when America has substantial racial tension. It was exactly false and exactly divisive.”
Gingrich’s sudden concern with the “racial tension” stoked by criticism of the president is shocking coming from the man who accused President Obama of having a “Kenyan, anti-colonial” worldview and called him the “food stamp president.”
Sign Media Matters’ petition urging the White House press corps to “close ranks and stand up for journalism” against Trump’s attacks.