In the great scale of things, it may not be the most awful thing that The Independent was asked to leave Karen Handel’s final election campaign event in Georgia. By itself, it may not matter when a journalist is told they cannot film the candidate “because of security”.
Alone, it may not be so bad when that same reporter is then made to wait in a glassed-off buffet area (without being offered anything to eat; so much for southern hospitality), the police are called, and the entire episode is videod by a Handel supporter, presumably in an attempt to intimidate.
Yet we were not the only outlet to be treated this way on the eve of the special election in Georgia 6th congressional district. A reporter from the liberal-leaning ThinkProgress said she was prevented from attending Handel’s final event after quizzing her about the the Republican’s healthcare bill. Meanwhile, a journalist from the conservative Free Beacon, was escorted from a rally of Democrat Jon Ossoff. Ossoff’s campaign was apparently upset about a story on how many miles the candidate lived outside the district’s boundaries.
— Brent Scher (@BrentScher) June 20, 2017
Taken together, all of this adds to a disturbing trend. Since the Donald Trump launched his campaign for the White House, the media has found itself being increasingly sidelined, attacked and mocked.
Trump himself repeatedly referred to the press following his campaign as “terrible people” and “scum”, and accused them of peddling fake news. And he would watch, with an apparent sense of glee, as his supporters would turn to the media, sitting in the press area, and boo and hiss.
It would be wrong to pretend Trump is unique is his derision for the media, or to think the way in which the “mainstream media” is frequently condemned and ridiculed is especially new. Barack Obama’s administration prosecuted reporters over stories he considered damaging to national security, and locked up whistleblowers who leaked information.
And as the silly, counter-productive behaviour of the Ossoff campaign shows - the Free Beacon’s story was an entirely legitimate and smart piece of enterprise reporting - such shutting down of access is not limited to the Republicans.
But since Trump entered the White House, the war against the media has stepped up. Last month, a reporter from the Guardian was assaulted by a Republican congressional candidate in Montana. The politician was charged, and eventually apologised, but many conservatives applauded his actions.
“In Montana - ladies and gentlemen, I must do something. I must join the chorus of people condemning what happened out there,” leading talk radio host Rush Limbaugh, said on one of his shows. “This manly, obviously studly Republican candidate in Montana took the occasion to beat up a pajama-clad journalist, a pajama boy journalist out there.”
— Kira Lerner (@kira_lerner) June 19, 2017
Attendant to Trump’s insulting of the media, is a near farcical controversy about the way the White House now disseminates information. For decades, a televised briefing by the White House press secretary has been a daily fixture of the political firmament of Washington DC.
But no more. Trump and his cohorts now decide, sometimes on the spur of the moment, whether such briefings will be on the record, on background, whether cameras will be allowed or whether - in this rich multimedia age - the American people will have to make do an audio recording of the spokesperson answering questions.
It’s usually hard to get people who are not journalists, fired up about issues such as press freedom.
For most, the issue does not intrude into their lives. The US is not Mexico, or Pakistan, or Honduras. Journalists are not murdered by hit men and their bodies dumped in the streets. Newspaper offices are not ussualy set on fire.
Yet the freedom of the press - an issue that the US frequently likes to lecture other counties about - needs to be everyone’s concern. Ordinary members of the public don't, in the most part, have the opportunity to quiz their local mayor, or elected official, or the CEO of a multinational, let along the President. That is what the media is for.
Anything that stops the media doing its job, even something as seemingly petty as preventing a reporter from attending a campaign rally, undermines this. And if our politicians can’t handle such scrutiny, they should get another job. Trump included.