The Stew Reporting on government and politics

Familiar battleground

Politics | Feuds with the press are part of modern presidential politics
by Harvest Prude
Posted 1/24/19, 05:23 pm

WASHINGTON—Once a daily occurrence, White House press briefings have become nearly extinct under President Donald Trump.

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders took questions from reporters only three times in the last three months of 2018, according to data from The New York Times. The president, who prefers to answer questions while at events, or en route to and from the White House, tweeted Tuesday that he instructed her not to bother with briefings because the press treats her rudely and doesn’t accurately report on what she says.

Trump’s combative relationship with news media, which he brands as “fake news” and “the enemy of the people,” has become a trademark of his administration. But hostility between the White House and the press is hardly a new development. Previous presidents simply used different means of penalizing reporters who got on their bad side.

Richard Nixon was known to keep an “enemies list” that included several reporters. Grover Cleveland would not allow reporters to have working space in the White House and refused to attend annual dinners hosted by journalists.

Limits on press access reached new heights during Barack Obama’s time in office, despite his claims of being one of the most transparent presidents ever. In a 2015 Newseum interview, Susan Page, USA Today ’s Washington bureau chief, said the Obama administration “has been more restrictive and more challenging to the press, more dangerous to the press, really, than any administration in American history.” His administration prosecuted leakers to the press eight times—including naming one Fox News journalist a co-conspirator—using the Espionage Act, originally designed to deter government workers from harvesting information on behalf of foreign powers. Prior to Obama, the Espionage Act only had been used four times to prosecute government workers who leaked classified information to journalists since 1945.

Advances in technology have allowed presidents from the mid-20th century onward to rely less on reporters to share needed information with the public. Franklin D. Roosevelt held “fireside chats” on the radio, and John F. Kennedy mastered television appearances to shape his own public image. Obama’s administration became the first to host its own in-house reporting show, “West Wing Week” on the White House website. Meanwhile, Trump uses Twitter, and he often prefers to break news himself online.

“They’re trying to get their message out all by themselves and they don’t feel … that they need to rely on the White House press corps anymore,” Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank told the Columbia Journalism Review.

Caught between the souring of relations between the executive branch and the media, the public is losing faith in the latter. The proportion of Americans who said they trusted the media sank to 32 percent, an all-time low, during the 2016 presidential election year, according to Gallup. The media have regained some ground, but the numbers are still low, with around 45 percent of Americans saying they trust the press to report “fully, accurately, and fairly.”

A Pew Research Center study released this month found that 58 percent of U.S. adults believe the media does not understand them. The feeling is particularly high among Republicans, with 73 percent of GOP voters reporting they feel misunderstood by the press. In contrast, around 58 percent of Democrats say they feel understood by the news media. Another Pew study showed that while a majority of Americans (71 percent) believe the news media is generally accurate, around two-thirds (68 percent) believe news organizations try to cover up mistakes as opposed to just admit them.

Associated Press/Photo by Damian Dovarganes Associated Press/Photo by Damian Dovarganes Supporters of Kamala Harris during the Women’s March in Los Angeles on Saturday

Democrats to host a crowded party in 2020

Sen. Kamala Harris of California joined a fast-growing field of Democratic presidential candidates this week, announcing her intent to run on the ABC News’ Good Morning America.

Harris, 54, grew up in Oakland, Calif., the daughter of a Jamaican father and an Indian mother. She served as district attorney in San Francisco before being elected California’s attorney general in 2010. In 2016, she won a U.S. Senate bid and replaced outgoing Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer.

As a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Harris has grilled a number of President Donald Trump’s judicial nominees, including Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh. More recently, she questioned District Court nominee Brian Buescher’s membership in the Catholic service organization Knights of Columbus. Her inquiry suggested his affiliation with the group showed he could not be impartial on issues such as same-sex marriage and abortion. Afterward, the Senate passed a unanimous resolution affirming religious freedom for judicial nominees and calling such questioning unconstitutional.

Harris plans a formal campaign launch in Oakland on Sunday. Before then, she will campaign in South Carolina, a state where African-American voters make up a large share of the Democratic electorate.

On Wednesday, another Democrat threw his hat into the ring: Pete Buttigieg, the 37-year-old mayor of South Bend, Ind. The city’s voters elected Buttigieg—who is openly gay and married to a man, a Rhodes Scholar, and a Navy veteran—when he was just 29.

“I belong to a generation that is stepping forward right now,” Buttigieg said in a video released Wednesday. He garnered some national attention following an unsuccessful bid in 2017 for the chairmanship of the Democratic National Committee. Buttigieg withdrew from that race when it became clear he didn’t have the support to win.

Harris and Buttigeig join a crowd of Democrats who have either declared their candidacy or formed exploratory committees. “Everybody who has ever thought about running for president is threatening to do it this time,” said Peter Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Poll.

The list is extensive: In addition to Harris and Buttigieg, U.S. Reps. John Delaney of Maryland and Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii, U.S. Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, former San Antonio Mayor Julián Castro, and former West Virginia state Sen. Richard Ojeda are in. Maybes include former Vice President Joe Biden; U.S. Sens. Cory Booker of New Jersey, Sherrod Brown of Ohio, Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, and Bernie Sanders of Vermont; U.S. Rep. Eric Swalwell of California; former U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke of Texas; and former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper. —Kiley Crossland

Associated Press/Photo by Robert Willett/The News & Observer Associated Press/Photo by Robert Willett/The News & Observer North Carolina Superior Court Judge Paul Ridgeway

More waiting in undecided House race

A North Carolina judge on Tuesday rejected a request to declare victory for the Republican candidate in the country’s last undecided congressional race. Mark Harris leads his Democratic opponent, Dan McCready, by 905 votes in the state’s 9th District, but an investigation is underway into possible election fraud.

The bipartisan North Carolina Board of Elections refused to certify the election because of suspicions of ballot tampering. The board disbanded earlier this month over an unrelated lawsuit challenging its composition as unconstitutional. A revamped board will resume work Jan. 31.

Harris’ attorneys filed a lawsuit arguing the elections board should have certified Harris the winner in November because the district urgently needed a representative in Washington, D.C.

After a two-hour hearing on Tuesday, Superior Court Judge Paul Ridgeway disagreed, saying the new board “will be in the best position to weigh the factual and legal issues” and that the “petitioners have not shown a clear right to the extraordinary relief.”

The staff of the elections board continues the investigation into the accusations against Leslie McCrae Dowless, a political operative in rural Bladen Country who worked for Harris’ campaign. Witnesses claimed Dowless and people working for him went door to door in the county helping people sign up for absentee ballots and then went back to collect the forms, some only partially complete and unsealed. It is illegal for someone other than a close relative or guardian to submit someone else’s ballot. Other witnesses said Dowless then sorted and mailed only the ballots with a vote for Harris.

The state Board of Elections also investigated Dowless in 2016 for ballot fraud and forwarded its findings to the federal prosecutor’s office in Raleigh, which has not said whether it will pursue charges.

Harris, who reportedly handpicked Dowless to work on his campaign, told reporters earlier this month that he knew nothing of the earlier investigation.

McCready said Harris should be prosecuted if he participated in election misconduct. Democrats, who now control the U.S. House of Representatives, said they will not seat Harris until the investigation is finished, and they may look into the matter themselves regardless of the state election board’s decision. —K.C.

Associated Press/Photo by Cliff Owen Associated Press/Photo by Cliff Owen Sen. Joni Ernst

Going public

Responding to recent news reports about her divorce, Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, said this week that her ex-husband physically abused her and her college boyfriend raped her. Ernst, 48, a first-term senator, was married to Gail Ernst, 65, for 26 years. They have one adult daughter.

Details of the divorce became public this week in a report in the Des Moines, Iowa, publication CityView. In an interview posted Wednesday night by Bloomberg News, Ernst reiterated allegations from her divorce proceedings that her husband attacked her once during an argument, throwing her to the ground and pounding her head on the floor. It only happened once, she said.

She also disclosed to Bloomberg her assault by a college boyfriend, whom she declined to name. Ernst said she reported the rape to a sexual assault counseling center but not police.

“I didn’t want to share it with anybody, and in the era of hashtag-MeToo survivors, I always believed that every person is different and they will confront their demons when they’re ready,” she said in the interview.

Ernst also talked about her support for President Donald Trump and Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, both of whom have faced accusations of sexual misconduct. Ernst said she withdrew from consideration as a President Donald Trump’s running mate in 2016 because of her marital problems. She plans to run for reelection to the Senate in 2020. —Lynde Langdon

Harvest Prude

Harvest is a graduate of the World Journalism Institute and a reporter for WORLD.

Read more from this writer


  • news2me
    Posted: Fri, 01/25/2019 06:38 pm

    Press vs Presidents

    It's interesting what Obama did to the press. Does anyone remember a judge intervening on behalf of a press member and telling Obama he had to let them back in? Nah, I didn't think so.

    Yet we have a judge who tells Trump he has to let a rude member of the press back into WH press conferences. Interesting.