Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff / Flickr james mattis...
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff / Flickr

And now James Mattis joins the list of Trump officials attempting to shut out press coverage of his agency. Given that he is the secretary of defense and his “agency” is the Pentagon, this is a bit of a big deal.

Under Mattis, the Defense Department has become less transparent and publicly accountable than it has been in previous administrations, according to interviews with numerous reporters who cover the beat. The reporters requested anonymity, saying they feared that being quoted by name could lead to further loss of access.

You can tell what reporters think of Mattis when none of them are willing to go on the record criticizing him. The problem appears to be, and stop us if you’ve heard this one before, that Mattis both doesn’t trust the press and wants to make damn sure nobody reports anything that could get him in trouble with his paranoid, hypersensitive nutcase of a boss.

“There is a growing perception by Secretary Mattis that the media is trying to pit him against the president and deliberately misinterpret the things that he says,” said the administration official.

The real problem is that no two members of the administration appear to ever be on the same page when asked about either the president’s supposed position or his administration’s supposed policies. But Mattis may indeed see reporters asking him to clarify just what the flying hell is going on, during any given day, as a “gotcha” question. He seems to be taking steps to avoid appearing on camera, as well, by having spontaneous off-camera “gaggles” with reporters rather than scheduled, on-camera briefings:

“On the one hand, he seems to want to be able to chat with reporters, on the other he doesn’t want to be on camera,” a reporter said. “There are many reasons why one would want to stay off of the television.”

If you were trying to avoid being caught saying even the slightest little thing an angry orange child could take offense to and launch into a spittle-flecked rant over, yes, one imagines you would tend to studiously avoid camera time. Better to have reporters write what you say down: Donald watches television, but Donald doesn’t have the patience for reading things.

It could be that Mattis genuinely believes the press does not need the level of access to the Pentagon that it took for granted in past administrations. It could be that he is indifferent, and the shrinking press access is due to that indifference rather than any thought-out plan. Or he could be restructuring the American press’ relationship with the military leadership entirely—all because he’s trying to keep his man-child of a president from launching into fits over the smallest variation of wording, between White House and Pentagon press conferences, and the only way he can do that is to curb press access so that there’s nothing for the man-child to have fits about.

It could be any of the three. It’s not clear that any is more likely than the others.

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This is a Creative Commons article. The original version of this article appeared here.


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