The upset to the existing order caused by the presidential election has been acutely felt by no one, perhaps, so much as it has by the national press. At Donald Trump's press conference on Wednesday, reporters found themselves not only subject to a scolding ("Fake news!" "Disgraceful!") but also awakened to the strong suggestion that, at least in tactical terms, the showdown had been won by the president-elect.
The media's sense of dislocation may soon become literal.
According to three senior officials on the transition team, a plan to evict the press corps from the White House is under serious consideration by the incoming Trump Administration. If the plan goes through, one of the officials said, the media will be removed from the cozy confines of the White House press room, where it has worked for several decades. Members of the press will be relocated to the White House Conference Center—near Lafayette Square—or to a space in the Old Executive Office Building, next door to the White House.
"There has been no decision," Sean Spicer, Trump's press secretary, said about the plan today. But Spicer acknowledged that "there has been some discussion about how to do it."
Spicer cast the possible relocation of the press corps as a matter, in part, of logistics. "There's been so much interest in covering a President Donald Trump," he said. "A question is: Is a room that has forty-nine seats adequate? When we had that press conference the other day, we had thousands of requests, and we capped it at four hundred. Is there an opportunity to potentially allow more members of the media to be part of this? That's something we're discussing."
Another senior official, however, suggested a more pointed motivation for the move. According to the official, the potential relocation reflected a view within the transition team that coverage of Trump has been so hostile as to indicate that the press has abandoned its role as neutral observer.
"They are the opposition party," a senior official says. "I want 'em out of the building. We are taking back the press room."
Reporters have had some sort of workspace at the White House since Teddy Roosevelt's time, but the current press room is an artifact of the Richard Nixon era, the dawn of the symbiosis of the press and the modern presidency. The "room" is actually a space containing work stations and broadcast booths, as well as the briefing area that is so familiar to viewers of presidential news conferences.
For the media, the White House press room—situated on the first floor, in the space between the presidential residence and the West Wing—is not only a convenience, with prime sources just steps away. It is also a symbol of the press' cherished role as representatives of the American people. In the midst of the George W. Bush presidency, when relations between reporters and the Administration were growing testy, the White House press corps was removed from the press room for nearly a year, while the facility was remodeled. The move prompted such concern that the president himself had to offer his assurance that it was only temporary. (As it happened, press conferences were held at the White House Conference Center during the renovation).
Trump himself, of course, is in many ways a creature of the press, and it remains to be seen whether he will sign off on a plan that puts more distance between him and the cameras whose attention he has long sought. But for some Trump officials, the media's presumption of entitlement all but requires a change. If there is a credo that reflects the culture inside the James Brady Briefing Room (named after President Ronald Reagan's first press secretary, who was wounded by a bullet meant for Reagan), it is that presidents come, and presidents go, but the White House press corps is forever. In that sentiment, some in the transition team discern precisely the attitude that led to the revolt that elected Trump president.
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