×

Trump Wages War on the Press, but Was Obama Much Better to Reporters? (Guest Column)

President Trump hasn’t called a formal news conference in more than a year, a scheduling lapse that ordinarily would inflame the White House press corps.

Trump’s blustery war on journalism has at times featured streaming insults and threats to punish unfriendly outlets. He calls reporters “nasty” and endangers their safety while maligning their work.

“So much Fake News about what is going on in the White House,” he complained recently on Twitter.

President Obama, by contrast, gave a valedictory address on his way out of Washington praising White House reporters.

“America needs you and our democracy needs you,” Obama said. “Having you in this building has made this place work better. It keeps us honest, it makes us work harder.”

Worthy sentiments, but also dishonest given Obama’s dismal record on press freedom and access.

Pulitzer Prize-winning national security reporter James Risen wrote in The New York Times that if Trump wants to jail a whistle-blower or use the FBI to spy on journalists, he got the playbook from his predecessor.

Obama, who campaigned on a promise to protect government whistle-blowers, made greater use of the Espionage Act to prosecute leakers and menace journalists than all other presidents combined.

Obama’s Justice Department accessed the personal email of a Fox News reporter and surveilled the reporter’s parents and colleagues. They seized the home, work and mobile phone records of journalists at the Associated Press.

Risen, who fought the administration to protect his sources, got so deep in his own legal battle with Obama that he selected a reading list for prison before the government finally backed off.

White House officials subverted the press in a number of ways while touting themselves as the most transparent in history.

Obama routinely banned news photographers from official events. He went months between press conferences and used social media to circumvent reporters.

First lady Michelle Obama took policy trips overseas with no press on her airplane. The White House scrubbed public visitor logs of names it didn’t want in the news.

The Obama administration posted the worst record in history for fulfilling requests for public records under the Freedom of Information Act.

In a bleak episode of unintended irony, an open-government group gave Obama an award for transparency in an Oval Office ceremony closed to the press.

Trump may well end up being worse on press issues than Obama, and today’s White House reporters could be picking out their prison reading lists eventually.

But for now, those on duty there are guardedly hopeful.

Trump has proved more accessible than Obama and has not moved on threats against the industry. He has yet to discover the many uses of the Espionage Act, but he still needs to make time for a news conference.

Julie Mason hosts “The Press Pool” on SiriusXM’s POTUS channel. She is a veteran White House reporter and a former elected board member of the White House Correspondents’ Assn. 

Popular on Variety

More Politics

  • Lowell Smokes Cafe Marijuana

    With Cannabis Lounges, On-Site Consumption, Marijuana-Infused Meals Go Legit

    Can this century’s Roaring ’20s repeat history but with pre-rolled joints instead of whiskey flasks and soccer moms as the new flappers? This month, West Hollywood will see the opening of the nation’s first at least quasi-legal cannabis consumption lounge, officially dubbed Lowell Farms: A Cannabis Café, located at 1211 N. La Brea between Fountain [...]

  • President Donald Trump waves as he

    Trump Holds Fundraiser in Hollywood's Backyard

    President Trump paid a visit to Los Angeles on Tuesday, as part of a West Coast fundraising swing expected to raise $15 million. Trump is set to appear at a dinner at developer Geoffrey Palmer’s house in Beverly Hills, where tickets range from $1,000 to $100,000 for VIPs. Though set in Hollywood’s backyard, the event [...]

  • Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez's Burning Image Debate Ad

    ABC Runs Debate Ad Showing Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez's Burning Image

    ABC aired an ad during Thursday’s Democratic debate that depicted a burning image of Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and likened her politics to those that caused the Cambodian genocide. New Faces GOP funded the ad, which features Elizabeth Heng, a Republican who lost a bid for a Fresno-area congressional seat last year. Ocasio-Cortez responded on Twitter, [...]

  • Joe Biden, Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris.

    ABC News' Democratic Debate Lacked Energy and Purpose

    At long last, former Vice President Joe Biden and Senator Elizabeth Warren were on the same stage. And the result was a long and fairly dull evening. After two Democratic Party debate stages in which the field of candidates had been bifurcated — splitting, in both cases, the perceived frontrunners from the establishment and insurgent [...]

  • Former Vice President Joe Biden responds

    Protesters Interrupt Joe Biden During Democratic Debate

    Protesters interrupted presidential candidate Joe Biden during Thursday’s democratic debate. The chants came nearly two and a half hours in as moderator George Stephanopoulos asked the former vice president about any professional setbacks he’s faced and how he recovered from them. “We’re going to clear the protesters,” Stephanopoulos said as the chants began. “We’re sorry.” [...]

  • Bernie Sanders, Joe Biden, Elizabeth Warren,

    Dems Debate in Houston: Moderates Push Back on Medicare for All

    The third Democratic debate on Thursday was billed as the first showdown between the top contenders: Vice President Joe Biden, Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Sen. Bernie Sanders. Biden did challenge the liberal senators on health care early in the debate, which was broadcast on ABC. He asked repeatedly how they would pay for their multi-trillion [...]

  • Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth WarrenSecond 2020

    How to Watch the Third Democratic Primary Debate

    The leading Democratic candidates will once again go head to head tonight in Houston, Tex. for the party’s third debate ahead of the primaries. The anticipated debate, which will include the 10 Democratic candidates currently leading in the polls, will kick off at 8 p.m. ET and will broadcast live on ABC and Univision. ABC [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content