A US appeals court ruled Friday that reporters covering the President at the White House are entitled to due process before the revocation of their press passes. Specifically, the court upheld a district court that had blocked President Trump’s effort to punish Brian Karem, who writes about Trump for Playboy Magazine.
A free, private, and vigorous press, even sometimes a press in an adversarial posture to the powerful. has long been thought a critical deterrent to the excesses of those wielding that power. As Justice Louis Brandeis once put it, “sunshine is the best disinfectant.” The law that has grown up around press access to public information and events is founded on that understanding.
The Trump administration in particular has often been accused of acting in a quite opaque manner, as if in avoidance of that disinfectant. The suspension of Karem’s press pass last summer seemed to corroborate those suspicions.
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The court’s ruling said that, yes, the White House does have the power to suspend unruly reporters. But the reporter in question must receive fair notice about what conduct will be disciplined. An ad hoc decision after an exchange of harsh words between Karem and presidential advisor Sebastian Gorka, to the effect that Karem’s part in that exchange was “unprofessional,” is not sufficient.