Brian Karem is our very own White House correspondent, giving Playboy readers up-to-the-minute commentary directly from the press room at the center of the Trump Administration.
If the President had his way, the annual White House Correspondence Dinner would have served as a eulogy for the First Amendment.
Certainly, it had all of the trappings. Labeled a “celebration” of the First Amendment, there were well-dressed attendees speaking kindly of the right to free speech – almost as if it were a dearly departed uncle who succumbed to a lingering illness. In a situation that would be a perfect wake, there was food, drink, amusing anecdotes, jokes and cheers.
Meanwhile in Harrisburg, PA on April 29, that same night, the President of the United States tried desperately to kill off any remaining vestiges of free speech. Once again, he called the New York Times “failing” and, before a screaming crowd that resembled his campaign rallies more than a presidential appearance, he accused the media of incompetence and dishonesty. “If the media’s job is to be honest and tell the truth, the media deserves a very, very big fat failing grade,” he said – apparently not understanding the word “media” is plural. He also called us dishonest.
Back in D.C., president of the White House Correspondent’s Association Jeff Mason, along with Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward, took turns telling a sympathetic crowd, “We are not fake media.” Apparently they understand the word is plural.
Comedy Central’s Hasan Minhaj channeled his inner Don Rickles as he insulted the president and the press. “Even the president is not beyond the reach of the First Amendment. But the president didn’t show up because Donald Trump doesn’t care about free speech,” Minhaj said. “The man who tweets everything that enters his head refuses to acknowledge the amendment that allows him to do it.”
To be fair, President Trump is not the first man to attempt to kill the First Amendment. True, Monday it was disclosed that his chief of staff is “exploring” ways to approach congress about changing the First Amendment – a scary concept from any administration but from this one it takes on possible totalitarian consequences.
Nixon hated the press and blamed reporters from The Washington Post and The New York Times for his demise – never taking responsibility for his own actions. Every succeeding president has had issues with the press, and some (like Reagan and Obama) took very subtle actions to quell an inquisitive media. Reagan practically destroyed independent journalism by deregulating the industry and Obama locked up whistle blowers.
But no one has taken a lead pipe and applied it to the head in such a brutal, Neanderthal-like way as Trump. Saturday’s event in Washington did not turn out to be the wake the president wanted. Subsequently, his rally filled with vitriol and divisiveness didn’t turn out to be the victory lap against the press he so desperately wants.
The press is notorious for not defending itself. We often eat our own. Those who serve as advocates are ousted and those who do not fit into the club – the true outsiders – are often shunned. When we are accused of being members of the “liberal” media we usually say nothing – even when facts are at our disposal that would prove otherwise. Saturday’s WHCA dinner showed while we are slow to the game we are getting there. There’s life in us yet.
Those who do not understand the situation or those who confess to a deep abiding love for the president often misunderstand our actions and the reasons for them. Perhaps they see a corpse twitching and hope it will stop.
But the news never stops and someone will be there to deliver it. Take, for example, last week. While a lot of media attention was spent on the WHCA and the Harrisburg rally, the president also proposed tax cuts to help the rich. Not enough? There was news about the changing healthcare plan that could punish women and the poor. North Korea went from being a spoiled brat nation unable to back up its threats to a dangerous rogue nation we might end up having to put down with our military. The president’s sanctuary plan hit another court-ordered roadblock. The president issued an executive order on education that does – wait for it – nothing. There was a threat of destroying national monuments, hunting hibernating bears, an executive order Senator Chris Van Hollen said would enable the richest Americans to hide their wealth overseas, and of course there was General Flynn and the Russian investigation.
That was just one week in White House briefings. Any of those stories deserved far more attention than they got, but when you’re working at breakneck speed to cover an administration that wishes to bulldoze the opposition in an act of demagoguery, these stories drown in the turgid swamp the president vowed to drain.
So that you hear anything about these stories at all is a testament to a free and unfettered press. Do we get things wrong? You bet. Is there conservative and liberal bias in the media? Without a doubt. We are, after all, human – despite the president’s protestations to the contrary.
But no one has ever tried so hard to destroy, demean and belittle free thought as President Trump. When he says we get it wrong and he has many friends who are reporters I’m reminded of the racist who claims his closest friends are Black.
I don’t believe either one of them.
The President and his supporters have termed his opponents “snowflakes” but it is the president who looks more and more like the snowflake, unable to handle criticism and determined to snuff it out using every weapon at his disposal to do so.
Ultimately, the truth will out. The press may not like it but they will report it – and whatever it is, you can bet if it doesn’t meet Trump’s approval the president will try to suppress it with his friends in the press smiling and giving him the support, love and understanding he desperately craves.