Press­ing on

The pres­i­dent’s lat­est salvo against news me­dia

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette - - Local News -

There’s a cer­tain ap­peal to busi­ness peo­ple who run for of­fice. They know how to get things done — or so we like to think. How­ever, govern­ment and busi­ness are dif­fer­ent an­i­mals, and that di­ver­gence came to the fore with Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s no­tion to pe­nal­ize NBC for its cov­er­age of him.

NBC re­ported Wed­nes­day that at a meet­ing with mil­i­tary lead­ers in July, Mr. Trump ex­pressed a de­sire to in­crease the na­tion’s nu­clear arse­nal by a fac­tor of 10. Sec­re­tary of State Rex Tiller­son, aghast at the no­tion, called the pres­i­dent a “mo­ron” in a con­ver­sa­tion with mil­i­tary of­fi­cials af­ter the meet­ing. Mr. Trump took to Twit­ter to crit­i­cize NBC and the other net­works for “fake news” — some­thing he does fre­quently — but he also went a step fur­ther this time by sug­gest­ing ac­tion against NBC’s “li­cense.”

The net­work doesn’t have a li­cense — sta­tions af­fil­i­ated with it do — but the pres­i­dent’s threat of re­tal­i­a­tion came through loud and clear. He wasn’t fin­ished, ei­ther. Dur­ing a meet­ing Wed­nes­day with Cana­dian Prime Min­is­ter Justin Trudeau, Mr. Trump deemed it “frankly dis­gust­ing the way the press is able to write what­ever they want to write.” That isn’t en­tirely true, of course, but Mr. Trump never lets the facts de­tract from his blus­ter.

Busi­ness ex­ec­u­tives, as Mr. Trump was be­fore be­com­ing pres­i­dent, sur­round them­selves with peo­ple who do as their told. In the top­down busi­ness world, the CEO sets the tone for an or­ga­ni­za­tion, and ev­ery­one falls into line — or else. Govern­ment doesn’t work that way. There are many voices push­ing, pulling and oth­er­wise ex­ert­ing in­flu­ence on the po­lit­i­cal process.

The main­stream press is one of those voices, and it never falls into line. It doesn’t say what­ever it wants — there are eth­i­cal stan­dards and li­bel laws to con­sider — but it has wide lat­i­tude to cover govern­ment with a zeal­ous­ness many politi­cians dis­like. Too bad for them. The First Amend­ment guar­an­tees press free­dom, and that is good for the repub­lic no mat­ter which party con­trols the White House or which per­son oc­cu­pies it.

Though Mr. Trump is not the first elected of­fi­cial to rail against or want to reign in the press, he is thin­ner skinned than most, pos­si­bly be­cause of his busi­ness back­ground. Mr. Tiller­son’s cor­po­rate back­ground — he was the CEO of Exxon Mo­bil — may ex­plain his own un­ease with the me­dia. “I’m not a big me­dia press ac­cess per­son,” Mr. Tiller­son told the In­dep e n d e n t Jour­nal Re­view in March. “I per­son­ally don’t need it. I un­der­stand it’s im­por­tant to get the mes­sage of what we’re do­ing out, but I also think there’s only a pur­pose in get­ting the mes­sage out when there’s some­thing to be done.”

But one shouldn’t be serv­ing as sec­re­tary of state — or in any govern­ment po­si­tion — to serve one’s own needs. Govern­ment is the peo­ple’s busi­ness, and the me­dia will be there to mon­i­tor it. If Ge­orge Wash­ing­ton and Thomas Jef­fer­son ad­justed to me­dia scru­tiny, Mr. Trump and Mr. Tiller­son most as­suredly can, too.

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