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White House’s new press rules will make it harder for reporters to hold Trump accountable

The rules could result in reporters being banned for asking follow-up questions. That will have a chilling effect.

Press Secretary Sarah Sanders Holds Briefing At The White House Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

On the heels of the Trump administration’s failed effort to strip credentials from Jim Acosta of CNN, the White House released new rules on Monday for reporters at press conferences.

The new rules specify three circumstances that could result in “suspension or revocation of the journalist’s hard pass” — asking more than one question, not yielding the floor, and failing to surrender a microphone.

Here’s the entirety of the document detailing the new rules:

Please be advised of the following rules governing future press conferences:

(1) A journalist called upon to ask a question will ask a single question and then will yield the floor to other journalists;

(2) At the discretion of the President or other White House official taking questions, a follow-up question or questions may be permitted; and where a follow up has been allowed and asked, the questioner will then yield the floor;

(3) “Yielding the floor” includes, when applicable, surrendering the microphone to White House staff for use by the next questioner;

(4) Failure to abide by any of rules (1)-(3) may result in suspension or revocation of the journalist’s hard pass.

The rules seem innocuous on their face. But as Steven Dennis of Bloomberg noted, strict enforcement of them could allow President Trump or press secretary Sarah Sanders to lie with impunity, as reporters who press them about false claims could be construed as asking more than “a single question” and risk being banned in response.

Many of the most newsworthy moments from Trump-era briefings and news conferences have come when reporters have been able to ask follow-up questions.

Fox News Radio’s Jon Decker’s string of follow-up questions during a briefing in September revealed that the White House had no legal basis for demanding the Department of Justice investigate the New York Times for its publication of an op-ed written by an anonymous administration official who portrayed Trump as unhinged and unfit to serve. Dogged questioning from Kristen Welker of NBC during Trump’s most recent news conference earlier this month shed light on how Trump is not taking the rise in anti-Semitic incidents in the US seriously.

After Trump dodged Welker’s original question about what he’s doing to tamp down on anti-Semitism by dissembling about his support for Israel, Welker followed up and asked him, “What about the divides in this country?” In an illustrative moment, Trump didn’t have a good response for that question either.

But based on a strict reading of the new rules, either Decker or Welker could have their White House credentials stripped as a result of those incidents: They asked more than one question without permission. That possibility could have a chilling effect on journalists who simply want to hold the executive branch accountable.

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