Trump shuts out The Washington Post: How did we get here?

The Washington Post is the latest publication to have its press credentials revoked by Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, a pattern that experts say is unprecedented and yet not unexpected. 

Keith Srakocic/AP
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump waves to the crowd over the heads of media photographers as he arrives to speak at a campaign rally on June 11, 2016, at a private hangar at Greater Pittsburgh International Airport in Moon, Pa.

Reporters from The Washington Post will no longer have press access to Donald Trump's presidential campaign, announced the presumptive GOP nominee in a Facebook post late Monday afternoon. 

In his post, Mr. Trump wrote that he is revoking the newspaper's press credentials due to the Post's "phony and dishonest" coverage, including an article published Monday afternoon titled "Donald Trump suggests President Obama was involved with Orlando shooting." The headline was changed shortly after its publication to read, "Donald Trump seems to connect President Obama to Orlando shooting."

In a statement released later that day, Washington Post editor Martin Baron called the decision to revoke the paper's press credentials "nothing less than a repudiation of the role of a free and independent press." 

While the decision shocked many, the Post is not the first publication that Trump has banned. Other organizations that have had their press credentials revoked by the Republican candidate include BuzzFeed, Politico, The Daily Beast, and The Huffington Post. 

Danielle Sarver Coombs, associate professor in the School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Kent State University in Ohio, describes the trend as "unprecedented."

Certainly, Dr. Coombs tells The Christian Science Monitor, there have always been candidates and politicians with "enemies" in the media world – for example, Sarah Palin, the 2008 Republican nominee for vice president who was vocal in her distaste for the "lamestream media." 

And then there was President George W. Bush, who during his time in office openly admitted to "rarely" reading news stories, telling Brit Hume of Fox News that "the best way to get the news is from objective sources. And the most objective sources I have are people on my staff who tell me what's happening in the world." 

Going back further, there's Richard Nixon, who "had an 'enemies list' of journalists," writes Robert Schmuhl, professor of American Studies and journalism at the University of Notre Dame in Indiana, in an email to the Monitor. But this is different: "Donald Trump's decision to ban The Washington Post is directed at an entire institution," and several institutions at that.

Furthermore, as Coombs points out, Trump's contentious media relations defy traditional party biases. He's revoked press credentials for the left-leaning Huffington Post and BuzzFeed News, but he's also gone up against Fox News, the right-wing network that previous Republican candidates have relied on to promote their campaigns. 

While Trump's growing list of banned media organizations may be largely unprecedented, it shouldn't necessarily come as a surprise, some scholars say. Polls reveal Americans' trust in the media to be at a historical low, with only 40 percent of Americans reporting that they have a "great deal" or "fair amount" of trust in the media in 2015. That number is an even lower 32 percent for Republicans. 

"A lot of [the media's low approval rating] has to do with what Americans view as dishonest, agenda-laden reporting," said Jim Kuypers, author of "Partisan Journalism: A History of Media Bias in the United States," in an email to the Monitor. "Historically, other Republican and conservative candidates simply take it on the chin, scared to rock the boat."

Trump, however, is scared of no such thing. When a publication recontextualizes his remarks, "he calls them on it" – or, in the case of The Washington Post, revokes their press credentials. 

"Many Americans," and Trump supporters especially, "are fed up with what they see as a press that talks about free speech, but does not responsibly use that right," Dr. Kuypers said. "To the degree that is there, Trump has tapped into that." And, he adds, "frankly, the mainstream press deserves some of this." 

It remains to be seen whether The Washington Post ban will affect the success of Trump's campaign, but experts say it isn't likely to hurt him significantly, at least among his core supporters. 

"Many Trump supporters will cheer any action that looks anti-media," Dr. Schmuhl said. "But those who value a free press and its role in a democracy will shake their heads and wonder whether his skin is thick enough to compete in the hurly burly of national politics."

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