Several major news outlets found themselves blocked from attending a Friday White House press briefing with Sean Spicer, the Press Secretary, the latest sign of worsening relations between the Trump administration and the media attempting to cover it.
The New York Times, CNN, the Los Angeles Times, Huffington Post, Buzzfeed and Politico were among the news organizations prevented from attending, according to posts by reporters from those outlets on Twitter, as were several foreign news organizations. The Associated Press and Time declined to take part. The White House was said to have invited press organizations to the event.
The three major broadcast networks – CBS, ABC, and NBC – were invited to the briefing, as were several news outlets that play to a conservative readership, such as Breitbart, The Washington Times and One America News Network.
The blocked access was disclosed just hours after President Trump railed against “dishonest” media and use of anonymous sources in stories about his term in the office. “It doesn’t represent the people, it never will represent the people and we’re going to do something about it,” he warned while speaking at the Conservative Political Action Conference on Friday. Media outlets including CNN, The New York Times and The Washington Post have provided a key check on some of the actions the Trump White House has tried to take in recent weeks, posting stories that have revealed infighting among staffers and raised suspicions about General Michael Flynn, the President’s former National Security Adviser who stepped down in the wake of a report he had discussed U.S. sanctions against Russia in a late December conversation with that country’s ambassador to the United States, despite previously denying it.
The maneuver threatens to cut off some of the nation’s most prominent and esteemed news organizations from a daily event that has for years been seen as ingrained in the White House press beat as mustard is on a turkey sandwich. It also puts a metaphorical barrier between a “gaggle” that allows for the dissemination of information by the President of the United States to the world and the public that elected him to the office.
The White House Correspondents Association protested the development. “We encourage the organizations that were allowed in to share the material with others in the press corps who were not,: the organization said in a statement. “The board will be discussing this further with White House staff.”
Trump’s campaign often banned particular reporters or individual news outlets whose coverage displeased from attending campaign events. But Trump is now President, not a candidate for the office, and cordoning off the White House briefing from particular outlets is a move that is bound to raise questions about why the administration is cutting off press access. Keeping select outlets out of the briefing moves directly in contrast to remarks Spicer made to Politico in December, before he took on the Press Secretary role. Asked if the Trump White House would prohibit certain reporters or outlets from covering the President, Spicer responded “absolutely not.”
In a statement, CNN called the move “unacceptable” and added: “Apparently, this is how they retaliate when you report facts they don’t like. We’ll keep reporting regardless.” Dean Baquet, the executive editor of The New York Times, noted that the move defied years of norms surrounding the White House press briefing. “Nothing like this has ever happened at the White House in our long history of covering multiple administrations of different parties,” the editor said in a statement posted by The Times. “We strongly protest the exclusion of The New York Times and the other news organizations. Free media access to a transparent government is obviously of crucial national interest.”
One of the news organizations that attended, The Wall Street Journal, said in a statement it would not have done so if it knew the conditions of the meeting in advance. “Had we known at the time, we would not have participated, and we will not participate in such closed briefings in the future,” the statement said. The Journal is part of Dow Jones & Co., which is owned by News Corp., controlled by the Murdoch family.
As much of a tradition as the press briefing is, much of the most salient news about Trump’s presidency has not been delivered within it. And news outlets are likely to continue to work outside of the traditional stream of U.S. government disclosures for information. “For the president, the media is both a useful political target and one of the biggest threats to his presidency. By hammering reporters as dishonest purveyors of fake news, Trump simultaneously rallies his fans and lays the groundwork for dismissing fair-minded journalism as the work of partisan hacks. The same calculus is at work when Steve Bannon, his White House advisor, pretends the media is ’the opposition party.’, said Peter Slevin, an associate professor at Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism. “Many people will believe them, unfortunately, but the sun will rise every morning in newsrooms across America and reporters will do their jobs.”