Over the past couple of weeks, a virtual event called “Cigar Enthusiasts for Trump” was being promoted as an opportunity to “sit down” with the Trump campaign and be part of a discussion with Donald Trump Jr, the son of President Donald Trump. One of the biggest questions asked by the cigar enthusiasts and industry-people on a frequent basis is “Will President Trump provide relief to the cigar industry around regulation?” This forum seemed as good as any to get a temperature check on what the President is thinking in terms of the question. I signed up for the event and was looking forward to getting a feel for what we can expect from Trump in regards to regulation of premium cigars. However, within the first minute of the meeting, members of the media were asked to leave. Needless to say, I was blindsided, but I opted to do the honorable thing and leave. It’s a decision I stand by and would make again.
This decision was not made in anger at anyone – not at the cigar industry and not at the Trump campaign. It was made simply based on the way I operate and conduct my business. My emotion is one of disappointment and remains that way.
Let me make it clear what my objective was for being on this call. I knew this would not be a press conference. I was not there to get some of the harder questions asked. I was there to observe and assess to see how serious the President is about providing relief to the cigar industry. I was not there to support or rally against a campaign at all.
Following my post on social media that I had dropped out of the call, I received many messages from key industry people telling me I should have stayed on. I was told I could have stayed on wearing a consumer hat. Others told me the comment was directed at mainstream media and not cigar media. I also was informed that this was a campaign event, so there are some different rules of engagement that apply here. I’m grateful and appreciative of that feedback.
When the media is asked leave an event or excluded from one, I consider it an ethical and moral obligation to the host to comply. I established a Code of Ethics for Cigar Coop nine years ago, and I operate under that code. I’m not judging anyone else who stayed. Even if I had stayed as a “consumer,” my knees as a journalist would have been cut off in terms of being able to report on the event.
It’s important to know that while I support the premium cigar industry 100% for full deregulation of cigars; if I see something that is not working, I feel an obligation to report it fair and honestly. My criticism of Rudy Giuliani in late 2016 and into 2017 are examples of this. I believe many were making Giuliani out to be the “white knight who was going to save the cigar industry from the claws of the FDA.” I disagreed with that belief, and now that it’s 2020, you can make your own assessment on whether I was right.
At some point down the road, there may come a point where I will make an assessment – positively or (hopefully not) negatively on what I am observing in terms of the relationship with the White House. Had I stayed on that virtual call – which essentially now is an off-the-record call, there could be have been something that swayed my opinion one way or another. I would not feel right using what I learned on the call.
I also do not draw a line between cigar media and mainstream media. We are all media. Some may be bigger and wider in what they cover, but we all have a story to cover. While I’m not even a rounding error when it comes to Fox or CNN, it doesn’t diminish what I do as a journalist. In other words, I don’t want to be the token blogger who was allowed to stay while the big bad evil media was told to go.
I commend the cigar industry for taking the step they did in organizing this meeting. This was a historic moment for our industry to engage with a Presidential campaign. Would I have preferred better expectations to be communicated here? Absolutely. Hopefully, there will be other types of future events where there will be a role for media. The Trump Jr event wasn’t that particular forum to do that. I can respect that.
I addressed this topic on Episode 144 of the Prime Time Show.
Video Credit: Cigar Coop