John Kirby is a retired Navy admiral and former Department of Defense and State spokesperson. Currently, he is a national security analyst for CNN. On November 21st, 2017, Kirby posted an opinion piece in CNN entitled “How Sarah Sanders humiliated the press“.
Kirby’s initial complaint centered around “…White House press secretary Sarah Sanders encouraged reporters to first state things they were thankful for before asking their questions. Most of them obliged. They shouldn’t have.” Kirby goes on to say that “It’s neither the time nor the place for kibbitzing or moralizing, and it’s certainly not appropriate for a press secretary to lay down special rules for who gets to ask questions or how those questions need to be prefaced or proffered.”.
Kirby’s real complaint however comes at the very end of his editorial, where he states that “I believe her little stunt is just part and parcel of a longer, larger effort by this administration to undermine the credibility and stature of a free press in this country. And none of us should take that in stride, least of all the press.”.
Let me start off by saying that I think Kirby is a patriot who has honorably served his country, and like all of us, has the right to state his opinion. For a brief bio on Kirby, take a look here.
I think Kirby is off though on his defense of a free press. (He’s probably right about the Administration’s intent though.) Kirby has spent most of his adult life in public affairs – he’s very knowledgeable about the industry and is tight with many Washington insiders. I don’t mean to imply that is necessarily bad – but it will give him an insular view of a free press that many of us do not hold.
In talking about what Sanders did, Kirby states “Credentialed media are credentialed for a reason, and that’s all the reason they need to be in that briefing room.”
I began to wonder “How do you get to be a credentialed media?”. I found this article at journalistsresource.org that talks about credentialing practices. A few interesting quotes from the article are:
But when journalists need access to government or private spaces beyond what is allowed to the public at large, they must obtain special permission. This frequently takes the form of a media credential, an official document or statement from an organization that the journalist is permitted to be somewhere or engage in particular activity, regardless of rules applicable to the rest of the public. (Emphasis in italics added by me.)
and this one:
The study’s findings include:
One out of every five respondents who applied for a credential was denied by a credentialing organization at least once.
Certain categories of applicants are more likely to be denied than others: freelance journalists were significantly less likely to receive media credentials than employed journalists.
Photographers were more likely to be denied than non-photographers.
Respondents who identified themselves as activists were more likely to be denied than those respondents who did not.
Kirby’s view of a free press seems to me stuck in an idealized view of a free press as defenders of freedom and ‘credentialed’ truth-tellers. We can’t say that anymore. Yes, there are journalists out there that attempt to see and present both sides, but they are far out-numbered by the ‘activists’ and political/media revolving door that allows for an ‘activist’ to suddenly become a ‘credentialed’ journalist with little vetting. The simple reality is that now, given technology that allows for ease of entry into the media world, and the plethora of ‘credentialed’ media organizations that are fronts for a particular point of view, the credibility and stature of the free press doesn’t need the Trump administration to undermine it – they are doing just fine on their own.