‘President Donald Trump’s new press secretary, Sean Spicer, opened his relationship with the White House press corps over the weekend with a flurry of condemnations for the “deliberately false,” “reckless,” and “shameful and wrong” reporting on the president’s first 24 hours in office. “We’re going to hold the press accountable,” he declared.It was not the first such threat from the Trump team. Earlier this month, Trump himself warned that BuzzFeed News would “suffer the consequences” for having published a dossier of unverified claims, initially compiled by a former British intelligence agent, about the depths of the incoming president’s entanglement with Russia.
On this, as on so many other things, the question is how exactly a Trump presidency would go about translating aggressive rhetoric into policy. The conventional mechanisms for payback by politicians against the press are mild—reducing access, feeding leaks to competing outlets, making unkind remarks. Trump did his own version of this at his pre-inaugural press conference, refusing to take questions from CNN’s Jim Acosta and barking at him about trafficking in “fake news.”
But the Trump Administration has also demonstrated a readiness to apply pressure to its designated opponents in less conventional ways. As a thought experiment, what could Trump do to impose more severe “consequences” on an individual news outlet, or to hold one “accountable”? If the president wanted to punish BuzzFeed, for instance, and drive it to ruin, what tools would he have? …’