According to a report running at Politico right now, the Trump White House has made a semi-official decision to effectively freeze out CNN, pulling its spokespeople off the network’s air for an indefinite period of time. “We’re sending surrogates to places where we think it makes sense to promote our agenda,” says an unnamed White House official. CNN apparently isn’t that in Donald Trump’s eyes, not surprising given that he’s been at war with the network for months, a situation which culminated at Trump’s batshit crazy news conference a few weeks ago, where Trump refused to call on correspondent Jim Acosta and ranted that CNN was “fake news.”
Now make no mistake: If you’re a serious and responsible news organization, there’s no better compliment than those in power whining that you won’t “promote our agenda.” CNN should wear that like a badge of honor from now until Trump is dragged kicking and screaming out of the White House. But on that note, it can’t be overstated the favor Trump just did for CNN. First of all, yes, there’s instant credibility in being seen as a journalistic outlet so unwilling to curry favor with Trump and his band of liars and lunatics that he’s literally shut you out. For a news outlet, only good can come from Kellyanne Conway never showing her face or spinning her sociopathic bullshit on your air or Sean Spicer not telling easily verifiable lies live, without the benefit of a contemporaneous fact-checker.
More than that, though, there’s the fact that Trump has pushed a decision upon CNN that it might not have been willing to make on its own. By trying to hurt CNN’s ratings by withholding official voices from the administration on its various shows and panels, Trump is forcing CNN to no longer be beholden to “access.” That frees CNN as a network to behave as it should: to assume an entirely adversarial stance in the face of the Trump White House, calling it to the carpet at every turn in ways that are fair but also relentlessly aggressive. If Trump is going to make CNN an outsider organization, the network should embrace it and use that to its advantage.
The good news is that CNN already seems to be doing just that. The network is reportedly fortifying its investigative reporting team and consolidating it under a single initiative, with Pulitzer Prize-winners Carl Bernstein and James Steele playing big roles in terms of both contributing content and helping to bring in new talent. For too long, CNN and news organizations like it have relied on access to the “official word,” rather than digging hard for the truth, which should be the one and only mission statement of any respectable news outlet. Stenography, to some extent, replaced responsibility. But if the Trump White House keeps CNN on the sidelines, the network may have no choice but to resort to doing its job.
That would be very good news for CNN, very good news for us — and likely very bad news for Donald Trump when you consider CNN’s resources and reach.