I’m still hacking my way through the jungle of the 2016 election aftermath, trying to figure out what it all means. But I’m pretty sure, less than a week and a half since Donald Trump trounced Hillary Clinton in the Electoral College, we can conclude this much: voters rejected the national news media just as resoundingly as they repudiated the counterculture in 1972 or the economic royalists in 1936. The press, though it struts about believing itself to be independent, is, in the eyes of the public, just another interest group, like Wall Street or the agriculture lobby, furnishing its own interests and feathering its own nests.
And man alive, did the Fifth Estate roar into self-serving action against the new president-elect yesterday. What misdeed had he committed now? Did he shoot someone on Fifth Avenue? Deport every Lithuanian in North America? Appoint himself to every one of his cabinet positions?
No (although I wouldn’t rule out any of those yet), Trump’s brazen infraction was that he snuck away from the White House press pool to have a private dinner with his family at the 21 Club in New York.
What sort of world do we live in where we’re denied knowledge of Trump’s postprandial liqueur selection?
NBC News clawed at the sheer injustice of it all in an article headlined — I’m not making this up — “As Trump Leaves Press Behind for Steak Dinner, Incoming Admin Already Showing Lack of Transparency.”
“The only way the press eventually ascertained his whereabouts,” gasped NBC about its Frankenstein monster, “was after a Bloomberg reporter, who happened to be dining at the 21 Club, tweeted a photo of Trump and some of his transition team in the Midtown steakhouse.” The White House Correspondents’ Association, media interest group and thrower of asinine parties, cried: “One week after the election, it is unacceptable for the next President of the United States to travel without a regular pool to record his movements and inform the public about his whereabouts.”
It makes you miss the days of Evelyn Waugh’s “Scoop,” when journalists killed time by pecking away at their novels rather than pantingly following the every movement of their subjects. Still, despite the unseemly throb of narcissism underneath all this, the press does have a point. Trump violated protocol. His team issued what’s called a “lid,” which signaled to the press that the president-elect was done for the day, only for him to slip away in a motorcade beyond reportorial reach. This is problematic because of what’s called the “protective press pool,” a gaggle of journalists who are supposed to know the president’s coordinates so they can coordinate and communicate with the public in the event of an emergency, as they did after Pearl Harbor and on 9/11.
This is hardly the most essential function of presidential protection: it’s the Secret Service that takes bullets for Trump, not the J school graduates who tail him around. And certainly much of the braying on Twitter yesterday about the indispensability of the media to our national security and the dangerous precedents set by Trump was hilariously inflated. But still, we need to know where the president is, even if we’re not privy to whether he orders the New York strip or filet mignon, and the press is the best vessel for this, even if they overstate their own importance.
Trump press secretary Hope Hicks later said the dinner was an oversight, because the president-elect had yet to form a protective press pool, just as he has yet to form a cabinet or a coherent approach to the issues. So from this incident, we can conclude that Team Trump is in disarray, and the press corps is deeply self-satisfied.
Well, we knew that already.