Trump's White House is running a media access con game—and winning

The White House is perpetrating a scam on the Beltway press corps, bragging about how much access Donald Trump gives reporters. The whole thing is a ruse, though, and unfortunately, it's another example of how key institutions of American journalism are lying down in the face of Trump’s bullying, not even mustering a fight on behalf of transparency or in the name of maintaining their watchdog status for voters.

Having dismantled White House daily briefings, a longtime hallmark of media access at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, the Trump team now has the gall to boast about how much face time reporters get with the president. Press secretary Stephanie Grisham, who has never given a briefing since being hired this summer and likely never will, bragged recently that Trump is “so accessible” that she doesn’t “know what any of the press could complain about.” She contemptuously told Politico that “President Trump communicates directly with the American people more than any President in history. The fact that the White House press corps can no longer grandstand on TV is of no concern to us.”

The media's supposed overflowing access to Trump comes from the useless sessions that regularly take place on the White House lawn, as a scrum of reporters shout questions at Trump as he prepares to board the Marine One helicopter.

According to research compiled by Martha Joynt Kumar, director of the White House Transition Project at Towson University, Trump surpasses his predecessors in holding these short Q&A sessions with reporters. According to Kumar, the shouting sessions make up 60% of Trump's interactions with reporters, compared to just 17% of Barack Obama's. To date, Trump has stopped more than 80 times for question-and-answer sessions while departing or returning to the White House aboard Marine One or on the tarmac before getting on or off Air Force One. But note that at this juncture of his presidency, Obama had given 24 solo press conferences, compared to just eight from Trump.

What's wrong with the outdoor shoutfests that Trump prefers? He's answering questions from reporters, so that's a good thing, right? Wrong. The controlled chaos, where reporters yell simplistic questions, allows Trump to pick and choose reporters at random, and to simply ignore questions he doesn't like. He’s also immune from follow-up queries and is free once again to lie indiscriminately, without being held accountable.