Monday, January 23, 2017

The traditional way of reporting on a president is dead. And Trump’s press secretary killed it.

Washington Post      The presidency is not a reality show, but President Trump on his first full day in office made clear that he’s still obsessed with being what he once proudly called “a ratings machine.”

He cares enough about it to send his press secretary, Sean Spicer, out to brazenly lie to the media in his first official briefing.

“This was the largest audience to ever witness an inauguration — period — both in person and around the globe,” Spicer said. And he added a scolding about widespread reports that differ from his evidence-free assessment: “These attempts to lessen the enthusiasm of the inauguration are shameful and wrong.”

Crowd size experts estimate Trump’s audience at far fewer than the million or more that Trump is claiming, and at far less than the size of the following day’s women’s march, which the new president has said little about. And side-by-side photographs showed the contrast between the comparatively thin gathering for Trump’s inauguration and the record-setting one in 2009 for former president Barack Obama’s first.

Ari Fleischer, a former George W. Bush press secretary, saw Saturday’s bizarre session for what it was.

“This is called a statement you’re told to make by the President. And you know the President is watching,” Fleischer wrote. (MSNBC’s Mika Brzezinski pegged it as “Sean Spicer’s first hostage video.”)

The mainstream media, including The Washington Post, appropriately made clear note of the falsehoods about crowd size. The New York Times called out “false claims” in a prominent headline, and many broadcast journalists challenged Spicer immediately — although they didn’t get a chance to do so to his face, since he took no questions.

CNN wisely chose not to air the briefing in full, but to report on it and to show parts, providing context. Fox News showed it in its full glory, infomercial style.

Some journalists, afterward, sounded stunned at what had transpired.

“Astonishing,” said Jim Acosta of CNN. “Jaw meet floor” was the reaction of Glenn Thrush of the New York Times.

The reaction is understandable. Some semblance of truth from the White House ought to be reasonable enough, especially on Day Two.

But nothing about this should shock.

Anyone — citizen or journalist — who is surprised by false claims from the new inhabitant of the Oval Office hasn’t been paying attention. That was reinforced when Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway told “Meet the Press” Sunday that Spicer had been providing “alternative facts” to what the media had reported, making it clear we’ve gone full Orwell.

Official words do matter, but they shouldn’t be what news organizations pay most attention to, as they try to present the truth about a new administration.

White House press briefings are “access journalism,” in which official statements — achieved by closeness to the source — are taken at face value and breathlessly reported as news. And that is over. Dead.

Spicer’s statement should be seen for what it is: Remarks made over the casket at the funeral of access journalism. [...]

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