CSM head advises AEJMC on major Trump statements

With the change of administrations in Washington, D.C., the Commission on the Status of Minorities is making its presence known in advising its parent organization on letters to President Donald Trump.

Barack Obama greets Donald Trump in the White House Oval Office. CSM is advising AEJMC on major statements concerning the relationship of the new chief executive to news media.

“Love him or hate him, the new chief executive will have a great impact on our nation and world, and how he treats the news media will be vital to whether the American people and global community will be informed with enough depth, breadth and accuracy,” said CSM Chairman Kyle Huckins.

The veteran educator, minister and media professional enthusiastically urged the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication to sign on to a letter to Trump and Vice President Mike Pence recounting the mixed history of the Obama administration with the media and asking the new president and his second-in-command to do better in their time in office.

“Pence is a longtime broadcaster, and Trump has been making media appearances for decades,” Huckins said. “My hope is this background will mean they will embrace an openness toward journalists, perhaps even alternative media’s reporters.”

The letter had 64 news media-oriented groups signing it, including the Society of Professional Journalists, National Association of Black Journalists, National Association of Hispanic Journalists, Native American Journalists Association and many others representing minorities’ interests.

Huckins is also advising AEJMC President Paul Voakes on a soon-to-be released presidential statement to Trump on journalism and media. Voakes, a colleague of Huckins’ for two decades, took the CSM official’s recommendations on key points of the proposed statement now in draft form.

“Paul has been a fair-minded leader and is an excellent researcher and instructor with an ability to bridge differences of opinion so a well-rounded decision ensues,”  Huckins stated.

The full text of the letter from AEJMC, SPJ and other groups is below.

In December 2015, a delegation representing more than 50 journalism and open government organizations met with Josh Earnest, President Obama’s press secretary, urging greater openness and transparency from the federal government.
The group shared its concerns to Earnest and his staff regarding the administration’s communications policies, including: 
  • officials blocking reporters’ requests to talk to specific staff people;
  • excessive delays in answering interview requests that stretch past reporters’ deadlines;
  • officials conveying information “on background,” refusing to give reporters what should be public information unless they agree not to say who is speaking;
  • federal agencies blackballing reporters who write critically of them;
  • and other policies that prevent information from flowing to the public. 
Since that meeting, however, little has been done to improve these issues. 

Our Founding Fathers knew the importance of a press that is free to report on the activities of our government and elected officials. “Our liberty depends on the freedom of the press, and that cannot be limited without being lost,” said Thomas Jefferson in a January 28, 1786, letter. Yet here we are, almost exactly 231 years after Jefferson wrote those words, and attempts to stifle the flow of information to citizens of the United States continues. 

But 2017 is a new year, and you are at the helm of a new administration. We would like to pick up where we left off with the Obama Administration and continue the discussion regarding issues relevant to freedom of the press. 

Most important on that list are: 

  • the ability of reporters to directly interact with government employees who are subject matter experts, rather than interacting with Public Information Officers (or having all conversations monitored by PIOs); 
  • access to the activities of the President; 
  • and ensuring that the Federal Freedom of Information Act remains as strong as possible. 

In addition, we would like to have a conversation regarding how we can work together to ensure that self-government as outlined by the Constitution survives and flourishes, and that a free press remains a cornerstone of our nation and our liberty. 

Information-control practices have gone too far and must be curtailed for the good of our democracy and reputation in the world. You can act now, as you begin your term, to shift the federal government away from secrecy toward transparency and accountability. 

Here are links to some of the letters sent to President Obama: The first letter, sent Nov. 21, 2013, addressed concerns regarding White House restrictions on photographers. The next letter, sent July 8, 2014, and a follow-up letter sent Aug. 5, 2014, regarding PIO and transparency issues were met with a response from the White House on Aug. 11, 2014, that the groups found unsatisfactory. This white paper and other articles also provide background on the issue. 

We urge you to publicly affirm your commitment to transparency, to issue an executive order prohibiting the restrictive public information policies that have been the status quo, and to engage in a public discussion with us about the Trump Administration’s commitment to the free flow of information from the White House and all federal government, to the American people. 

We would be happy to send a delegation to Washington, D.C., to have this discussion, or we invite V.P. Pence to meet with us the next time he is back in his hometown, which is also home of the Society of Professional Journalists’ national headquarters. We are also open to a video conference call as well. 

It is the hope of the thousands of members of the 61 organizations below that together, we can work to improve the lines of communication between the White House and the press. Democracy depends on it.