Trump Threats to Cancel Press Briefings Could Further Degrade Public Trust After Comey Dismissal
NEW YORK—In response to President Trump’s threats via Twitter this morning to “cancel all future ‘press briefings'” because “it is not possible for [his] surrogates to stand at podium with perfect accuracy,” PEN America Executive Director Suzanne Nossel released the following statement:
“While it is true that White House staff have come to press briefings armed with incomplete and incorrect information, the President’s petulant threat to stifle media coverage should not distract from dogged reporting on the White House’s shifting rationales for the ouster of FBI Director James Comey.
Doing away with daily White House press briefings, or replacing them with “written responses,” as Trump suggested in another tweet, would violate the principle that the White House—whoever its current occupant—should be accountable and transparent to the public. Regardless of the level of access granted to the press in other forms, the daily briefings serve a unique purpose: to allow the White House to inform the public, via the press, of its activities and policies, and to allow the public, via the press, to question the White House’s decisions and priorities. Eliminating that briefing or providing only “written responses” would allow the White House to avoid responding to difficult questions from reporters, prevent reporters from asking follow-up questions, and deny the public the ability to watch the daily address on television.
Even if it’s idle bluster aimed to distract attention amid a tough news cycle, the President’s threat to end daily White House press briefings evinces his abject disregard for the role of the press and rudiments of our democracy. Recent events have cast a grave pall over the public’s ability to trust in government. Restoring that trust, a bedrock of democracy, depends on transparent, accurate flow of information to inform public discourse. The press is an indispensable conduit for that.
Fortunately, there are grounds for confidence that the media will stay focused on their foremost responsibility to ferret out the truth for the benefit of the American people.”
In April, PEN America released the report Trump the Truth: Free Expression in the President’s First 100 Days, cataloguing the Trump Administration’s near daily assaults on the press, including Presidential tweets decrying “fake news,” restrictions on media access, intimations that the press has “their reasons” for not reporting terror attacks, and branding press outlets as “the enemy of the American people.”
PEN America stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect open expression in the United States and worldwide. We champion the freedom to write, recognizing the power of the word to transform the world. Our mission is to unite writers and their allies to celebrate creative expression and defend the liberties that make it possible.
Sarah Edkins, Director of Communications: [email protected], +1 646.779.4830