Television networks sent their executives and A-list personalities on Monday to Trump Tower in midtown Manhattan for an off-the-record meeting with President-elect Donald Trump.
The meeting between the executives, personalities and Trump is a slap in the face to journalists who see a new presidential administration as a way to recommit themselves to thorough and responsible journalism.
Accounts of the meeting differ, but CNN’s Brian Stelter reports Trump criticized some of the networks at the start. The future president also asked – allegedly – for a cordial relationship between the press and his White House administration.
Only those who were in the meeting will truly know what happened thanks to the networks foolishly agreeing “not to talk about the substance of the conversations.” What’s worse, few – if any – of the journalists and personalities attending today’s meeting appeared to disclose on air that they met with Trump.
Off-the-record meetings with presidents and elected officials are not new or uncommon occurrences. In fact, stories about off-the-record meetings between journalists and presidents date back to at least Franklin Roosevelt’s administration.
Precedent does not mean journalists and news organizations should blindly agree to off-the-record meetings with presidents and other government officials, however. Time, place and circumstance should dictate that decision.
In this case, Trump repeatedly harassed and taunted the press during his campaign. He actively worked to discredit fair and responsible pieces of journalism. Additionally, Trump so far failed to establish a protective press pool, which is a small group of journalists that travels with high-ranking officials.
While Trump can remedy some of these grievances, it should come as no surprise to journalists that presidents and their administrations sometimes work to make the press ineffective. The job of journalists and news organizations is to be stronger and rise above those challenges.
The major television networks that attended today’s meeting are one of the most powerful forces in the country, but their agreement to keep its contents off the record suggests they will not use that power to fight for access or for the benefit of their viewers and listeners. Instead, they will likely beg for access and feed on the scraps thrown to them by the incoming administration.
The American people who depend on those news organizations deserve better.
The New York Times and its executives will meet tomorrow with Trump, according to Stelter. The meeting will start off the record and lead into an on-the-record conversation with reporters and columnists from the newspaper.
My hope is that journalists and news organizations realize the amount of power they still wield, and use it for the benefit of their readers, viewers, listeners and all Americans.