Unhappy with “unnamed sources,” White House Press secretary Sean Spicer turned on his own staff in an emergency meeting last week, according to a Politico report. In Spicer’s office, staffers were made to turn in their phones and other electronic devices as White House lawyers looked on.
While inspecting devices, Spicer admonished staffers over alleged use of encrypted messaging apps which leave no trace of a conversation. Politico’s sources say that Spicer warned that using apps like, Confide and Signal violated the Presidential Records Act.
The harsh moves were seen as a direct reaction to President Trump’s pointed jabs at the media over their use of unnamed sources in stories the President found to be uncomplimentary. In his speech at CPAC on Friday, Trump bragged to his supporters, “I called the fake news the enemy of the people, and they are…because they have no sources; they just make them up when there are none. They make up sources.” Trump went on to offer a chilling suggestion, “They shouldn’t be allowed to use sources unless they use somebody’s name.”
While the Federal government does not have any laws in place to protect a journalist’s sources, 49 states do (all but Wyoming), to varying degrees. In 1972’s Branzburg v. Hayes, the Supreme Court said that journalists do not have a Constitutional right to protect their sources, but the government has to “show a substantial relation between the information sought and a subject of overriding and compelling state interest.” Defending Trump’s image could hardly be seen as a “compelling” interest, from a legal perspective.
This is just another move in Trump’s ongoing war on media. Whether it is blocking respected news outlets from press gaggles, or picking fights on Twitter, Trump’s assault on journalism in this country is alarming. His will to control the media hearkens back to the very foundations of our country. Thomas Jefferson, in a letter to his Dutch contemporary Gijsbert Karel van Hogendorp, spelled out the tactics of the British monarchy as they sought to dominate the press,
“YOU KNOW WELL THAT THAT GOVERNMENT ALWAYS KEPT A KIND OF STANDING ARMY OF NEWS WRITERS WHO WITHOUT ANY REGARD TO TRUTH, OR TO WHAT SHOULD BE LIKE TRUTH, INVENTED & PUT INTO THE PAPERS WHATEVER MIGHT SERVE THE MINISTER. THIS SUFFICES WITH THE MASS OF THE PEOPLE WHO HAVE NO MEANS OF DISTINGUISHING THE FALSE FROM THE TRUE PARAGRAPHS OF A NEWSPAPER.”
Trump’s distrust of the media has also drawn the current criticism of respected Republicans. Just this morning, former President George W. Bush told the Today Show’s Matt Lauer,
“WE NEEDED THE MEDIA TO HOLD PEOPLE LIKE ME TO ACCOUNT, POWER CAN BE VERY ADDICTIVE AND IT CAN BE CORROSIVE, AND IT’S IMPORTANT FOR THE MEDIA TO CALL TO ACCOUNT PEOPLE WHO ABUSE THEIR POWER.”
Trump’s attempts to mold the media in his image are dangerous to the very fabric of our society. Blasting the media for doing their jobs and striking fear in his own staff’s minds will do nothing to curb our concerns over his aim at tyranny.
His staff is leaking information because he cannot even gain the support of his appointed allies. This is but a symptom of the President’s larger control problem. When those who are supposed to be most loyal turn their back on you, it isn’t the fault of the press.