Memo to the Media:
Maybe it's Time For a "Spartacus" Moment
The Huffington Post, January 17, 2017
In light of Donald Trump’s behavior at his first press conference in six months, refusing to call on CNN reporter Jim Acosta,
citing his distaste for the cable news network, I have to wonder why Acosta’s colleagues didn’t stand up for him?
The First Amendment gives the media the right to report the truth, giving journalists great power to provide a check on government. However, when a president-elect, soon to enter the White House, willfully refuses to permit the press to do its job we have problems which the media must combat.
Many remember the film Spartacus, in which the leader of a Jewish rebellion is called out by Roman chieftains who intend to execute him. Kirk Douglas played the title role and manfully announced his presence, but very soon thereafter another man
said “I am Spartacus,” followed by another until there was a deafening chorus of the same “admission.”
Sadly, it didn’t end well for anyone involved, but it showed courage and heroism absent during the press conference. I wouldn’t expect those in the room to risk their lives, but since Trump fortunately can’t inveigh the same fate on the media as did the Romans, I mulled over why other reporters didn’t jump up and ask the same question Acosta wanted to ask? Where was their backbone? Why didn’t they tell Trump by such action they weren’t going to put up with his bullying of media outlets and his constant denigration of their profession?
Trump often derides the New York Times as a failed newspaper, demeans the Washington Post and in the
main casts aspersion and lack of success at generally everyone who writes or says anything critical of him, witness Meryl Streep recently termed an “overrated actress” after her Golden Globes remarks casting shame over his mocking a disabled reporter.
What would be so horrible if most of those in the room just stood up and walked out? Aren’t there other ways to get a scoop without going through the ceremonial, not always informative methodology of a White House press conference? Admittedly, there’ve been other presidents who had testy relations with the press, but none at this level. Not to mention there’s been word the press will be moved from the White House after Trump takes office.
This, too, bothers the press who covet seats in the briefing room and access to key White House staff when they’re quartered
in the presidential mansion. The president’s spokesman said being housed in the Old Executive Office building or another place nearby would provide room for more reporters, but the real message is clear. Trump’s contempt for the press, whose penchant for telling the truth about what he does and says has severely irritated the president-elect to the point where perhaps he feels, “Who needs them?”
Maybe he doesn’t need a press disdaining his actions and statements, but the American people and the free world need them
to investigate the facts about what our nation is preparing to do and when it seeks to do so. However, it doesn’t actually need a direct interview or chair in front of the president to accomplish that task.
That sort of thing is often fluff, a “get” for reporters, because seldom actual news is transmitted. Media folks could still purloin information from other sources, congress, embassies and executive departments anxious to get their word out, possibly off the record if Trump in a fit of ridiculous pique escalates his war with the press and forbids subordinates to talk.
So, it’s not as if the world won’t be aware of what’s going on. That’s what Trump should be afraid of, if they fight back by covering the story, critically examining what he’s doing without directly caring whether they directly address him or not, so as
not to permit him to impolitely and unprofessionally lord his power over them condescendingly. All done to restore equality in
the checks and balances: the executive, legislative, judicial branches and the Fourth Estate.
The main problem is that lots of reporters, especially those well-paid in front of the camera, enjoy prominence and the dough they earn and are reluctant to risk being the one who goes against the grain. But wouldn’t it be great if there were some journalistic cujones displayed towards a man behaving unlike any other president, left or right, where courageous commentators could say enough is enough, and in the case of Jim Acosta pull a Spartacus or collectively walk out?
I’m suggesting an extreme, but this man, deemed “elected” after falling short of Hillary Clinton by almost three million votes has repeatedly shown an inability to rise to the presidential occasion, continuing unsavory and childish tweets that have caused fear in the civilized world. Just a few days ago he derided civil rights icon John Lewis, not just rebutting the man’s charge that Trump is an illegitimate president, but continuing his typical bombast with a lie that Lewis’ Atlanta district is “in horrible shape,” when
it’s in a mostly fashionable, economically healthy area. Then, just yesterday he caused doubt about our commitment to NATO, which has roiled the international community.
Thus, it might be time for a provocative response to Trump’s poor treatment of the press. One that engenders respect for their noble profession and sends a message to the man, who in later tweets might not admit it, but he would be sorely annoyed with fewer requests for his time, even as the press hammered home through their reportage his irresponsible actions, as they’re continuing to do three days before being sworn in.
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