Z on TV Critic David Zurawik writes about the business and culture of TV

Zurawik: White House action against CNN reporter outrageous on so many levels

I cannot let this work week end without voicing outrage over CNN correspondent Kaitlan Collins being barred from a White House press event Wednesday.

The more I think about it, the angrier I get on multiple levels — especially her being called to the office of Bill Shine, deputy chief of staff for communications, for what sounds like a principal disciplining an unruly student.

Think of it: Shine, who sat near the top of the one of the sickest, most predatory and abusive cultures in the history of media while a senior manager and deputy to Roger Ailes at Fox News, is telling a top-tier journalist who was righteously doing her job that she behaved inappropriately and is going to be punished by him.

If it was me, my head would have exploded at the upside-down, Bizarro-Planet nature of someone with Shine’s history sitting in judgment.

First, Collins did nothing I have not seen dozens of reporters do as a session with Trump was ending: She hung back and shouted questions to Trump as members of the White House communications team used loud voices to tell reporters to clear the room.

Furthermore, Collins was the pool reporter representing five networks for coverage of the session between Trump and European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker, so she had all the more weight on her shoulders to try and get a response from Trump on the news of the day.

Dozens of times, I’ve seen Trump answer back to the questions, which makes for a nice slice of chaos as the people from the communications staff keep yelling over the president’s answers to clear the room.

I always thought of it as a snapshot of the chaos of this presidency — a dysfunction that starts with the man in the Oval Office and extends down through the ranks making it harder for reporters to do their jobs without shouting and hanging back as junior staffers aggressively try to clear the room.

Believe me, Collins was doing nothing out of the ordinary or wrong. To the contrary. She was doing the job of journalism, asking the very questions many of us wanted answers to in that moment.

Here they are:

“Did Michael Cohen betray you, Mr. President?

“Mr. President, did Michael Cohen betray you?”

“Mr. President, are you worried what Michael Cohen is going to say to prosecutors?”

“Are you worried what is on the other tapes, Mr. President?”

“Why had Vladimir not accept your invitation, Mr. President?”

Her punishment from Headmaster Shine and his snarly assistant, Sarah Huckabee Sanders: She would be barred from an event in Rose Garden later Wednesday.

The blowback against the action has been strong, but not strong enough.

Barring a reporter from an event is the line in the sand you do not let an administration cross.

When Barack Obama declared war on Fox News in 2009 and sent his top aides on to the talk shows to try and de-legitimatize the channel, only a few of us in the mainstream stepped up on principle and said the executive branch of government does not get to say what is and isn’t a legitimate news operation.

But when Team Obama ramped up its attacks and barred Fox News from an administration press briefing, holy hell started coming down on the White House, and Obama backed off fast.

This is even more serious and ugly with all the “enemy of the people” and “fake news” talk from the White House.

Shine only made it worse Thursday, insisting he never used the word “ban” in connection with the punishment of Collins.

Who cares? You told her she would not be granted access. You barred her. You told her she was being kept out as punishment for her earlier behavior.

Meanwhile, Kellyanne Conway, counselor to the president, defended the barring of Collins on the grounds of civility.

“The question isn’t are the press allowed to ask questions, this president obviously isn’t afraid of taking questions,” said Conway. What’s at issue, she added, is “being polite.”

The press, Conway said, should “show a little bit more respect” to the White House.

Isn’t Conway just the perfect person to be lecturing on civility and what is or isn’t “polite” when dealing with a White House that encourages rallygoers to taunt members of the press and chant “lock her up” at the mention of Hillary Clinton?

Welcome to Bizarro Planet on the Potomac. I wish I could laugh about it. But we are so far past that.

For the record, Shine was forced out as co-president at Fox News amid allegations that he had helped cover up complaints of predatory sexual behavior by his boss, Ailes. Shine has denied the allegations. Thanks to the huge settlements and non-disclosure agreements favored by the Murdoch family, which owns Fox, what Shine did or didn’t do might never be known.

david.zurawik@baltsun.com

twitter.com/davidzurawik

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