Contrary to what some might believe, journalists are not in the business of drawing conclusions based upon partial information. We're also not fans of one-sided stories, of anonymous sources, or phrases like "could not be reached for comment" in our copy.
So yes, when there's a clear and articulated effort to not cooperate with the media, it's difficult to do our jobs. And I suppose that's the point. But what I have often said to sources, and what I'd offer to the president, is that closing the door on the press makes it awfully difficult to do your job as well.
What we know in media right now, for example, is that the Trump administration is advocating for a defense buildup. We know President Donald Trump wants more Navy ships — vowing to expand the number of carriers the United States fields and decrease the cost of building them. We know he submitted a $30 billion supplemental funding request for the military, including $24.9 billion in Defense Department base-budget programs.
What we don't know is the strategy behind the defense buildup — the grander plan. We don't know how more ships would be deployed as part of the larger fleet, what that could mean to personnel and development costs, whether that means modernization efforts will get sidelined. We also don't know how the added program funds for 2017 could possibly get the green light, when they would bust budget caps.
I'm not saying that there aren't explanations. I'm just saying we haven't heard them. Good explanations would probably go a long way in selling such a bold proposition to the Hill and to the American people, big factions of which are skeptics of big increases in defense spending. President Ronald Reagan advocated for his own defense buildup with specifics because he needed the endorsement. And he was successful.
Trump views the media not just with skepticism but with a degree of disdain. And I'm not naïve enough to think no other leadership in past administrations felt similarly. Watergate ushered in a new more adversarial dynamic between media and government.
That's a good thing, I'd argue.
But any government that wants backing for policies needs the media to make sense of them. Make your case so we can filter that into our reporting. Because the reality is this: Any president faces a self-fulfilling prophecy if his reaction to perceived unfair or one-sided reporting is refusing to offer his perspective or that of his administration. We as journalists quite simply can only report what we're told.
John F. Kennedy said in 1962: "There is a terrific disadvantage not having the abrasive quality of the press applied to you daily, to an administration, even though we never like it, and even though we wish they didn't write it, and even though we disapprove. There isn't any doubt that we could not do the job at all in a free society without a very, very active press."
With or without you, President Trump, the best journalists have access to the information and the sources to write the story. And they will write the story. So why not be a part of it.
Jill Aitoro was editor of Defense News. She was also executive editor of Sightline Media's Business-to-Government group, including Defense News, C4ISRNET, Federal Times and Fifth Domain. She brought over 15 years’ experience in editing and reporting on defense and federal programs, policy, procurement, and technology.