In an unprecedented move Friday, the White House denied access to a press briefing to various news outlets, including CNN, The New York Times, BBC News, Politico, and Huffington Post. The action escalated an already tense relationship between President Donald Trump and his administration and what he has begun calling the “fake news” media.
Huffington Post pointed out that its organization and many of the others denied access to the private press briefing had been critical of the president, but stopped short of outright accusing the administration or its representative, Press Secretary Sean Spicer, of targeting only the media outlets that had questioned his administration and reported on the relationship between the Trump administration and Russia.
CNN, however, did not hold back its rebuke of being barred from the White House press briefing. The news network, the only major television network barred Friday (NBC, CBS, ABC and FOX News were allowed entry, announced on air that it had not been allowed into the private briefing with the press secretary. Jake Tapper, anchoring The Lead, called the move by the White House “petulant” and the act “un-American.”
Using Sean Spicer’s own words against him, where in December Spicer had said that the Trump administration would not ban the media from government access (because the press having access was the difference between a democracy and a dictatorship), Tapper commented on the administration’s seeming lack of openness.
“The White House does not seem to respect the idea of accountability. This White House does not seem to value an independent press. There is a word for that line of thinking. The word is ‘un-American.'”
CNN itself issued the following statement.
“This is an unacceptable development by the Trump White House. Apparently this is how they retaliate when you report facts they don’t like. We’ll keep reporting regardless.”
The New York Times also issued a statement, executive editor Dean Baquet writing, “Nothing like this has ever happened at the White House in our long history of covering multiple administrations of different parties. 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.”
Other outlets like Buzzfeed, and British organizations like BBC New, The Guardian, and Daily Mail were denied entry into what was called a press “gaggle,” which is the term used for an off-camera, on-the-record press briefing where a rotating group of reporters from the press pool would attend and be briefed by the press secretary. This is a regular occurrence when the president has a speech scheduled (which President Trump did: He spoke at the CPAC later on Friday). But this was different in that a selected group of additional reporters were allowed entry and even those who requested entry were barred, something that has never occurred before.
The action by the White House came hours after President Trump, speaking at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), continued his attacks against the press as the “enemy of the people” and vowed to “do something about it.” The president echoed the words of Steve Bannon, who the day before had labeled the media (per Deadline) “The Opposition Party,” saying, “[The press] are corporatist globalist media that are adamantly opposed to a economic nationalist agenda like Donald Trump has.”
“Here’s where it’s going to get worse,” Bannon went on.
“He’s going to continue to press his agenda. And, as economic conditions get better, as more jobs get better, they’re going to continue to fight. If you think they’re going to give you their country back without a fight, you are sadly mistaken. Every day it is going to be a fight.”
The White House also invited journalists conservative outlets Breitbart News, The Washington Times and One American News Network, which only gave rise to concerns that the administration was playing favorites with politically aligned outlets.
“We had invited the pool so everyone was represented,” White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders later told Huffington Post. “We decided to add a couple of additional people beyond the pool. Nothing more than that.”
Technically, Sanders’ point of “everyone” being represented was true in the sense that gaggles traditionally held with the understanding that pool reporters share the information gained at the briefing with their colleagues not in attendance. But “nothing more than that” briefings do not draw condemnation from news services like Reuters and the more conservative outlets Wall Street Journal.
At the Florida rally on Friday, the president continued his attacks on the “fake news” media, reportedly mentioning many of the news outlets that had been barred from the press briefing.
It is unclear if the White House will continue with the limited access “gaggle” briefings with selected additional reporters.
[Featured Image by Associated Press/AP Images]