President Trump sent many journalists into hysterics on Wednesday when he tweeted that he might "take away" press credentials from unspecified purveyors of "Fake News." "Why do we work so hard in working with the media when it is corrupt?" the 71-year-old real-estate tycoon tweeted at 7:38 a.m., presumably in his pajamas. "Take away credentials?" The press met this obviously inane and idle threat not with an eye roll, but with gasps and whinges and cries of alarm. It was an "assault on the First Amendment," the White House Correspondents Association huffed.
Spare me. Here is the painful truth for the emotional kindergartners who increasingly make up the Washington press corps: Our 45th president was making a joke to rile you up because he thinks it's hilarious.
But if he did for some reason decide to start denying press credentials to mainstream reporters, he would not be doing anything wrong. Reporters do not have a right to be at the White House. They can say whatever they want in newspapers or magazines or blogs or on the social media platforms of their choice. But the Constitution does not guarantee them the privilege of going to 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. and posing what are usually pointless bad-faith questions to a put-upon woman whom they make no secret of loathing.
Trump is shutting journalists out and complaining about them because they decided before his first day in office that his presidency was a disaster. The press is probably going to be proven correct about this, but reporters should spare us the faux-naïve surprise when he responds to their diurnal insistence that he is a fascist demagogue by making very tame jokes at their expense on Twitter. It's not a frighteningly nihilistic assault on the freedom of the press or the nature of truth itself when he says that negative stories are "fake": This is what politicians have always done, from John Adams to Bill Clinton. The same White House press briefings that they care so much about covering exist for the sole purpose of informing them that the administration is, weirdly, always right.
The willful inability of most journalists to acknowledge these painful adult realities does not exactly instill confidence in readers. Nor does the spoiled-brat dilettantish tone of most of their complaints. All three of the stories about that very scary tweet I saw in The Washington Post on Wednesday mentioned the fact that during the 2016 election on certain occasions — gasp — "Trump denied press credentials to various news outlets, including The Washington Post." How dare he! Callum Borchers found room for the following anecdote:
Trump told a crowd in New Hampshire that he had "really good news."
"I just heard that the press is stuck on their airplane," Trump said in Laconia. "They can't get here. I love it. So they're trying to get here now. They're going to be about 30 minutes late. They called us and said, 'Could you wait?' I said absolutely not. Let's get going. Right?"
Rallygoers cheered. [The Washington Post]
I did too, not during the speech but while reading the article. Having to wait around in a private jet a bit before you transcribe what a candidate says to an audience of scores of millions on television is not a credible threat to press freedom in this country.
It is not the solemn responsibility of journalists to save the world from the mean man by using the internet to point out that one or more of his thousands of meaningless utterances has contradicted — imagine that — yet another of his thousands of meaningless utterances. Instead they should remember which of the previous administrations have also had uneasy relations with at least some segments of the news media (hint: all of them, including George Washington's.)
Above all, the press needs to take itself just a wee bit less seriously.