WASHINGTON — The president of the White House Correspondents Association said President Donald Trump’s suggestion to revoke the credentials of reporters because of negative coverage would be “an unconscionable assault on the First Amendment.”
Margaret Talev, president of the WHCA, said in a statement, “Some may excuse the president’s inflammatory rhetoric about the media, but just because the president does not like news coverage does not make it fake. A free press must be able to report on the good, the bad, the momentous and the mundane, without fear or favor. And a president preventing a free and independent press from covering the workings of our republic would be an unconscionable assault on the First Amendment.”
She later said on CNN, “There are certain … boundaries that need to be respected, and actually threatening to restrict coverage and prevent people from getting information is one of those lines.”
Earlier on Wednesday, Trump once again railed against media coverage, but this time dangled the prospect of taking away reporters’ credentials.
He wrote on Twitter, “The Fake News is working overtime. Just reported that, despite the tremendous success we are having with the economy & all things else, 91% of the Network News about me is negative (Fake). Why do we work so hard in working with the media when it is corrupt? Take away credentials?”
During the presidential campaign, Trump’s team barred The Washington Post and other news outlets from campaign events, after the candidate expressed anger at the news organization’s coverage. But First Amendment experts believe the situation is different when it comes to access to the White House, which is a government property.
“Denying White House press credentials to reporters based on the content of their coverage would violate the First Amendment, as the DC Circuit made clear many years ago in Sherrill v. Knight,” said Theodore Boutrous, a partner at Gibson, Dunn and Crutcher in Los Angeles, who has a specialty in media law. The case is a 1977 decision in which the court ruled that when it came to bonafide journalists covering the White House, that “access not be denied arbitrarily or for less than compelling reasons,” including the content of their coverage.
At a brief press availability on Wednesday as he held a cabinet meeting, Trump was asked by a pool reporter if he would ban the press from the White House. He did not answer.
His comment, though, drew criticism from some outlets that have often given him favorable coverage. Matt Drudge of The Drudge Report tweeted that “I fear the future result of Trump’s crusade on ‘fake news’ will be licensing of all reporters. (Dems already floated this in the senate pre-Trump]. The mop up on this issue is going to be excruciating…”