Trump ditches press for dinner: What does that say about his presidency?

President-elect Donald Trump stepped out for a steak dinner without notifying the media, adding to mounting concerns about press access under his administration. 

Evan Vucci/AP/File
President-elect Donald Trump speaks during a rally in New York on Nov. 9, 2016.

After a week of meetings and phone calls in Trump Tower, President-elect Trump stepped out Tuesday evening to enjoy a steak dinner with his family – without notifying the press. 

In a move described as "unacceptable" by the president of the White House Correspondents Association, Mr. Trump chose not to alert the reporters covering him of his plans for the night. His whereabouts were unknown until a Bloomberg reporter who happened to be at the same restaurant tweeted a photo of the president-elect receiving a standing ovation at the 21 Club in Manhattan. Trump spokeswoman Hope Hicks later confirmed that the business mogul was having dinner with his family.

The move broke presidential protocol, especially as the campaign had already called a "lid," indicating to journalists that he would not be leaving his residence for the rest of the day. But while a steak dinner may not sound like a significant event, the incident added to mounting concerns about a broader lack of transparency during Trump's presidency that began earlier on in his campaign, when he banned several major media organizations from press access at events. 

"With his Tuesday night actions, the Trump Administration is shaping up to be the least accessible to the public and the press in modern history," wrote Alexandra Jaffe and Ali Vitali for NBC News. 

Throughout his campaign, Trump defied tradition by not having a pool of reporters accompanying him to events, and made no promises that that would change if elected president. Legally, the president is not obligated to allow the press to follow and cover them, or even to allow reporters on the White House grounds for daily briefings, Politico reports. The president-elect did not bring a pool of reporters with him on his first visit to Washington, D.C., since the election, adding to speculation.

Ms. Hicks told Politico on Thursday that "we fully expect to operate a traditional pool and look forward to implementing our plans in the near future." 

But some journalists aren't entirely convinced. 

"Hicks's statement is encouraging on its face, but if you read closely, you will notice that it is not exactly a guarantee," wrote Callum Borchers for The Washington Post. "Saying you 'expect' to grant access is not the same as promising to do so. Expectations – particularly those set by Trump – are not always fulfilled." 

"With Trump, the media must take a believe-it-when-we-see-it approach," he added, citing Trump's promises throughout his campaign that he would release his tax returns and false claims that he had donated $1 million to veterans' charities. "And what we have seen so far is rather inauspicious."

Though there is no law requiring a presidential press pool, some argue that the tradition is a crucial, non-negotiable aspect of a successful presidency. 

"Once you are president, once you are president-elect, it is a matter of tradition, it is a matter of security, it is a matter of national interest that you don't go dark – you're not really allowed to be a private person anymore," said Rachel Maddow on MSNBC. "There's no law that says the president or president-elect has to allow a press pool representative to follow their movements, but it is tradition, and it's tradition for a reason, and it's a tradition that has a national security basis, and it's a tradition, so far at least, that Donald Trump appears intent on not following." 

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