Opening the Door

Hell froze over. Pigs are soaring over the Rockies. The Chicago Cubs can start printing World Series programs.

In other words, Donald Trump just let a banned reporter back in a campaign event.

Not just one outlet, either. According to recent reports, the Donald has shredded his entire blacklist, a do-not-invite wall of spite that extended from the Washington Post to Buzzfeed and maybe even the Daily Planet while he was at it. Anyone who had dared offend him with their coverage or their cheek (one online outlet put their coverage of him in the Entertainment section) had been summarily shown the door.

And then, a wall that had been rising for over a year suddenly came down.

Not with an apology, of course, or any acknowledgement that the candidate had done anything ill-advised. That would be expecting a bit much. If anything, his press ban was lowered with a bit of resignation, a sigh of “I figure they can’t treat me any worse.” But still, lower it he did.

Reality finally broke down the front door.

This is one of those things that remains true whether you love or hate Trump, or for that matter, whether you love or hate the press. If you are a politician – whether holding office or running for it – you cannot do without the press, any more than a modern-day NFL team can do without television coverage or a lounge lizard can do without tacky gold chains and a pickup line. As a would-be representative of a free society, this is your reality.

It’s a reality that our nation’s leaders have tried to dodge on occasion. President Nixon was the most notorious, maintaining an outright “enemies list,” but he was hardly the first or last president to have an antagonistic relationship with the Fourth Estate. Even Thomas Jefferson, who once said he preferred newspapers without a government to a government without newspapers, once wrote in exasperation that “The man who reads nothing at all is better educated than the man who reads nothing but newspapers.”

Nothing is more tempting than to build a wall – if thy press offend thee, cut it off! But it’s a little like Mom’s warning about picking at a wound. It may feel good at the time, but it doesn’t help things, and it’s almost certainly going to make them worse.

As almost any veteran politician could have told Trump, cutting a press outlet out of your events doesn’t end the conversation. It just ends your control of it. Campaign events are highly staged, positioned to put a candidate in the best possible light and give him or her an opportunity to address the issues of the day. Take that away and – heaven forbid – the reporters may just go off and find news about you on their own.

What a concept, huh?

Add in the fact that a press wall is really leaky – many high-profile events with limited space have pool coverage, where reporters have agreed to share information – and the surrender becomes even more inevitable.

It’s not a bad rule of thumb for any of us: engagement and interaction beats withdrawal and disdain. Granted, there are some toxic people and situations where the best move is to create as much distance as possible. But remember that your refusal to interact with a situation does not guarantee that you cannot still be shaped by it. Pick your spots carefully and with much thought.

Gee. Forethought. Maybe that’s a word that more of our national politicians need to learn.

But maybe they prefer the taste of flying bacon.

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