On Tuesday night, the Democratic Party picked up at least 32 previously Republican Congressional districts and regained control of the House of Representatives for the first time since 2008.
The decisive Democratic victory ushered in renewed calls for oversight by several high-ranking members of the party who had pledged to investigate areas of potential malfeasance by the Trump administration.
The investigations being considered include a group of Democrats on the Education and Workforce Committee examining Education Secretary Betsy Devos’ efforts to deregulate for-profit colleges and curb student loan forgiveness, and presumptive chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee Richard E. Neal seeking to obtain President Trump’s tax returns by invoking an archaic committee rule from 1924 that allows heads of congressional tax-writing committees to request any person’s tax returns.
Meanwhile, presumptive chairman of the House Financial Services Committee Maxine Waters may subpoena records detailing the Trump Organization’s relationship with Deutsche Bank, the German bank that lent President Trump more than $400 million between 2005 and 2015 after other lenders began to view Trump as too high a credit risk following a string of casino bankruptcies and tanked real estate deals.
And Adam Schiff, who is poised to become chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, has pledged inquires into whether members of Russian organized crime laundered money through Trump Tower, as well as Russian election meddling in 2016 as a whole. Democrats on his panel also plan to investigate the October 2nd murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
Other investigative avenues include the rise of white supremacy-related violence, the FBI’s inquiry into sexual assault allegations against Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, the Trump administration’s illegal child separation policy and a plethora of other possible probes.
As the White House continues to monitor this “growing investigative onslaught,” the President has amplified his tried and tested media strategies of distraction and provocation.
Less than 24 hours after the Democrats flipped the House, Trump held an 87-minute press conference in which he successfully maneuvered past the White House press corps’ attempts to hold him to account.
CNN’s Jim Acosta asked about the notorious caravan that Trump had prompted vulnerable Republicans to use as fodder to stimulate high voter turnout in the midterm elections. After interrupting him several times, Trump admonished Acosta for being a “rude, terrible person,” and said that CNN should be “ashamed of itself,” for employing him.
Hours later, in an unprecedented step, the administration instructed the Secret Service to confiscate Acosta’s press pass and revoke his access to the White House. Incidentally, a D.C. circuit court judge ruled in 1977 that barring a White House correspondent without “notice, opportunity to rebut, and a written decision” is unconstitutional. In defending the administration’s decision, White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders further undermined her credibility by sharing a doctored video of the original C-SPAN footage, using it as the basis for alleging that Acosta had “[placed] his hands on a young woman.”
While the media fumbled with the far-reaching implications of the likely unconstitutional move, Trump quickly moved to impede the Mueller investigation as he accepted the anticipated resignation of Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
Trump appointed Matthew Whitaker as Acting Attorney General in Sessions’ stead. Whitaker, Sessions’ former chief of staff and a “reliable political ally,” has repeatedly criticized the Mueller investigation and called on Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein to “order Mueller to limit the scope of his investigation.”
Acting AG Matt Whitaker on CNN, July 2017: "I could see a scenario where Jeff Sessions is replaced with a recess appointment and that attorney general doesn’t fire Bob Mueller, but he just reduces his budget to so low that his investigation grinds to almost a halt.”
— Bill Hatfield (@billhatfield) November 7, 2018
Reporters have long questioned whether the conventional approach to covering the White House needs to be amended to fit a President who is adamant on eroding public trust of the press.
On Thursday, Politico reported that several organizations including the White House Correspondents’ Association and the New York Times’ Washington Bureau were looking to coordinate efforts and present the White House with a united front. While the coordination is a welcome step, it will most likely will fall short of substantially pushing back on White House disinformation.
Some, such as Fox News’ Chris Wallace, continue to insist that “anything that a president would say – even if it was libelous or scandalous,” is worth reporting. In the pre-Trump era, that may have held true.
However, as New York University professor and media critic Jay Rosen suggested as early as just three days into the Trump presidency, “normal practice would not be able to cope with the political style of Donald Trump.”
In June of this year, Rosen furthered his argument, stating that it was time for the press “to suspend normal relations with the Trump presidency.”
No. You can walk away from the briefings and press conferences without walking away from critical coverage of the Trump presidency. In fact, you'd have more resources for the latter if you executed on the former. Take back the mic, extend the lens. https://t.co/vxrDE4kQEw
— Jay Rosen (@jayrosen_nyu) November 10, 2018
This could involve CNN filing suit on behalf of Acosta to restore his presence within the White House press room. It may involve cable networks refusing to air campaign rallies live for viewers to watch for hours on end.
It may also involve an end to the White House press briefing as it has traditionally existed. The administration has already severely undermined the forum; press conferences are now held on a monthly basis and while reporters are prepared with serious questions, they are dismissed as untrue or inappropriate – a practice that has allowed White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders to blur the line between truth and lie for a growing segment of the population.
In a column published Friday, Washington Post columnist Anne Applebaum said, “Trump is not going to resign if the institutions of the state prove that he has broken the law.” “He will try, instead, to break the institutions.”
Here, via @anneapplebaum, is exactly what's coming. "He will try to break the institutions." These include the press. But that institution isn't ready for any of this. It's still telling itself, "we're not at war, we're at work." https://t.co/CmOpvFTq2Z pic.twitter.com/TnbJDaDHOC
— Jay Rosen (@jayrosen_nyu) November 12, 2018
However the media decides to respond to the White House’s latest affront to the First Amendment, it is imperative, now more than ever, that reporters not fall victim to the President’s ongoing war on truth. The sooner journalists realize that among the institutions on the President’s list for destruction is a free and independent press, the higher chance they have of mitigating the damage already done.