A press briefing is not a rally. Rather, it is a time when reporters ask questions that the person at the lectern responds to with an answer. Or prefers not to answer and dodges and weaves.

President Trump was, as we know, holding rallies that allowed his supporters to cheer his every move. Accordingly, he is not accustomed to questions that do not necessarily support him. Often he is asked by reporters to clarify something he has said or tweeted.

While President Trump has railed against reporters — notably Jim Acosta, Peter Alexander and, most recently, Yamiche Alcindor — it is nothing new that presidents don’t like the press.

George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama have all had their gripes and complaints about the “vultures,” but while they no doubt mumbled and grumbled quietly, none went off the rails and verbally attacked members of the press.

This enmity goes way back. Actually, more recent presidents have gotten off fairly easy, considering what the early leaders had to endure.

For instance, the press allied with John Adams in the Adams vs. Jefferson race for the presidency, tagged Jefferson as “the son of a half-breed Indian squaw, sired by a Virginia mulatto father.”

And consider Theodore Roosevelt:

At first he was favorable toward Upton Sinclair’s book “The Jungle” about the meatpacking industry — mostly because at the time Roosevelt was engaged in promoting a piece of legislation directed at the practices of the meatpacking industry.

But after a couple of unsavory run-ins with Sinclair, Roosevelt labeled him a “muckraker.”

Then there’s Woodrow Wilson, who was so angered at press reporting on the burgeoning World War I that he threatened to shut down any unfavorable comments of the press, considering reporters spies. Fortunately, the Senate and the House did not agree.

But while early and recent presidents have viewed the press corps unfavorably, none has gone as far as Trump.

Not content with broad-brush assertions about the media, he labeled any news that was not to his liking as “fake news.” Then he went further, branding such staunch respected national newspapers as The Washington Post and The New York Times as bearers of this “fake news.”

The editorial pages and the OpEd pages of these newspapers are, without doubt, mostly anti-Trump, but the news pages are pretty objective. Apparently, Trump can’t tell the difference.

But back to his vendetta or verbal attacks on individual reporters. While Trump has long sparred with CNN’s Acosta, that continued at a recent (Feb. 25) press briefing in New Delhi, India.

Acosta asked Trump a non-COVID-19 question about whether Trump would sign an agreement stating that he would not ask for, nor receive, foreign assistance in his reelection campaign. Trump went off on Acosta: “You probably have the worst record in the history of broadcasting.”

“I say that you are a terrible reporter,” Trump replied. “That’s what I say.”

He called it a “nasty question” and went on to attack NBC and Comcast. “I call it Con-cast,” he stated.

Finally, there’s Alcindor, a “PBS NewsHour” reporter and highly respected by others in her profession.

Trump had stated on Sean Hannity’s show that he doubted that New York state, as Gov. Andrew Cuomo had requested, needed 30,000 to 40,000 ventilators and said the number was “overblown.”

Ms. Alcindor was in the process of asking him on what he was basing that when Trump verbally attacked her.

He replied, “Come on, come on. Why don’t you people — why don’t you act in a little more positive ... ? It’s always, ‘Get ya, get ya, get ya.’ And you know what? That’s why nobody trusts the media anymore.”

Then he admonished her to “be nice,” as if asking him to explain his actions was not nice.

I end where I started: A press briefing is not a political rally. Reporters are not necessarily supporters and do ask probing questions.

That was exactly what Acosta, Alexander and Alcindor were doing.


About opinions in the Missourian: The Missourian’s Opinion section is a public forum for the discussion of ideas. The views presented in this piece are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Missourian or the University of Missouri. If you would like to contribute to the Opinion page with a response or an original topic of your own, visit our submission form.

Ken Midkiff, formerly the director of the Sierra Club Clean Water Campaign, is now chair of the city’s Environment and Energy Commission and serves on the board of directors of the Great Rivers Environmental Law Center.

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