News Legend Dan Rather Calls Early Signs from Donald Trump ‘Worrisome’

In an observation posted to Facebook, former CBS Evening News anchor Dan Rather stressed the important role the press plays in a democracy without admitting the press’ failures in 2016 may have irrevocably damaged ours.

While his saying the criticism is “fair and unfair” is disappointing (from a fact-based perspective it is mostly fair), he is certainly right in stressing the importance of the press (look what happens when they don’t do their jobs – we’ll be living it for the next four years).

Rather’s complaint here is that Trump gave the press the slip the other night to go to dinner and that the press pool he left behind “is in place for a very good reason…in case something ‘significant’ happens.” And it wasn’t just the press: As Trump spokeswoman, Hope Hicks explained, “I wasn’t aware of this movement.”

Bloomberg’s Taylor Riggs tweeted this shot of the event:

As Rather reminds us – and somebody needs to remind Trump – the reality star is no longer a private citizen and “his actions and whereabouts effect all of us.” (Some more than others, as residents of Trump Tower will find out when our new president takes up residence there for part of every week).

Here is Rather’s statement in full:

I know that the media has been under lots of criticism lately (fair and unfair), but I can’t stress enough the importance of the “press.” I know you’ve heard me talk about this before, but it’s worth repeating that the President-Elect needs to keep the press pool in the loop. This is certainly a learning experience for Donald Trump, but the press pool is in place for a very good reason. They travel with the President everywhere just in case something “significant” happens. Basically the press needs to know where the President is at all times. Period.
In an action that is raising alarm bells, once again, last night President-Elect Trump gave the press the slip and went to dinner. In this case Trump’s own press secretary claims she didn’t even know Trump was leaving his residence. She actually told the press he was in for the night. That wasn’t the case though. He actually dined at the “21 Club” in NYC and the press pool only found out after someone in the restaurant (a Bloomberg reporter who happened to be at the restaurant) tweeted out a photo. I truly hope that this is NOT going to be part of a bigger pattern (or problem) during the Trump presidency. Every President in recent memory has traveled with the press pool. It is there for a reason. Donald Trump is no longer a private citizen. His actions and whereabouts effect all of us. If news breaks around him or involving him, it is the public’s right to know about it. That is the nature of democracy.
There are certain norms about the press and the presidency that are there for a reason. And the early signs from Donald Trump are worrisome.

The thing is, Trump was always worrisome and the media, eager to add to their earnings, ignored it and instead lavished attention on the Republican candidate.

There are no surprises here. There were certainly journalists who spoke up openly and honestly about Trump, like NBC News‘ Katy Tur and CNN’s Brian Stelter and Newsweek‘s Kurt Eichenwald (and endured abuse and threats for doing so) but by and large, the mainstream media got the candidate they wanted.

Nobody should be surprised that Donald Trump wants to run the country from the top of Trump Tower, or that he wants to trot his extended family into top security meetings or hand out positions of power to all his cronies. We would be surprised if he didn’t.

NBC News may have overreached when it ran this headline up the flagpole: “As Trump Leaves Press Behind for Steak Dinner, Incoming Admin Already Showing Lack of Transparency.” After all, most presidents have at one time or another given the press the slip.

On one memorable occasion, conspiracy theories abounded when President Obama gave the press pool the slip to attend a soccer game. Press Secretary Robert Gibbs called it “unintentional” and an “oversight.”

Of course, President Obama did not have the worrisome attitude toward freedom of the press expressed so often by Donald Trump. Obama never threatened to sue Fox News for lying about him while Trump threatens to sue The New York Times for telling the truth about him.

None of this detracts from the fact that Dan Rather is right, even if his Facebook post shows that here at least, he is focused on the trees at the expense of the forest. Donald Trump’s cavalier attitude toward all things applying to the office of the presidency, not simply his relationship with the press, is worrisome.

The press has so often focused on the wrong things since Trump announced his candidacy, and griping about their sense of privilege won’t undo the harm they have done, and are still doing, by normalizing Trump’s extremism.

Here is hoping the press can, even if it is a collective last gasp given Trump’s attitude toward the First Amendment, earn back the respect of the American public because that means they will have finally done their job.

Meanwhile, the irony of Rather’s chosen platform, Facebook, infamous for its fake news problem, is not lost on us.

Photo: By Bin im Garten (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons