White House Blocks CNN, New York Times, and Others from Press Briefing
Reporters from several news organizations were denied entry to a press briefing at the White House on Friday afternoon, in a surprising breach of protocol that spurred fervent responses from newsroom executives.
Journalists from CNN, The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, the BBC, BuzzFeed, and Politico were blocked from participating in a gaggle— an informal question-and-answer session between a press secretary and journalists—with White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer in his West Wing office.
In what was dubbed an “expanded pool” of reporters, the White House granted entry to journalists from right-leaning outlets including Breitbart, The Washington Times and One America News Network. Reporters from mainstream outlets such as The Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg, Fox News, ABC News, and CBS News were allowed to participate in addition to the main pool. CBS was the assigned TV network for Friday’s pool, and its journalists at the White House shared the audio of the gaggle with anyone who asked for it.
Upon learning that some outlets were prohibited, Time magazine and the Associated Press boycotted the gaggle. “AP believes the public should have as much access to the president as possible,” the latter organization said.
When reached for comment, White House spokeswoman Sarah H. Sanders told The Daily Beast: “We invited the pool so everyone was represented. We decided to add a couple of additional people beyond the pool for an expanded pool. Nothing more than that.”
The affected news organizations released scathing statements blasting the Trump administration for what they described as a troubling development in President Donald Trump’s ongoing war against the media, and an affront to freedom of the press.
“This is an unacceptable development by the Trump White House,” CNN said in a statement. “Apparently this is how they retaliate when you report facts they don’t like. We’ll keep reporting regardless.”
The New York Times executive editor Dean Baquet said “nothing like this has ever happened at the White House in our long history of covering multiple administrations of different parties,” adding: “Free media access to a transparent government is obviously of crucial national interest.”
“While we strongly object” to the White House’s actions, BuzzFeed editor-in-chief Ben Smith wrote in a statement, “we won't let these latest antics distract us from continuing to cover this administration fairly and aggressively.”
Ari Fleischer, a Trump backer who served as White House press secretary for President George W. Bush, reacted on CNN by conceding that the decision to block certain reporters from the gaggle was “unwise and counterproductive,” but added: “There is nothing unusual about presidents meeting with self-selected reporters… and White House staffs do it all the time.” Fleischer echoed some conservatives who said the press largely overreacted to the way Friday’s briefing was handled, and defended Trump’s overall accessibility to the media.
“The press has this tendency to think everything is about themselves, to hyperventilate. ‘The First Amendment is under threat, because of the things he says.’ But then they ignore all the things he does that are tremendous for the media,” Fleischer said. “He is making journalism interesting and great again. It’s a fascinating time to be a journalist because he’s such a fascinating story. And he’s giving the press so much access.”
Bret Baier of Fox News, however, whose organization was admitted to the gaggle, stood with the reporters who were excluded, writing on Twitter: “A WH gaggle should be open to all credentialed orgs.”
The Wall Street Journal, which was also allowed into the gaggle, said in a statement that it “would not have participated” if its reporters had been aware ahead of time that some journalists were being excluded.
Much of the briefing focused on CNN’s reporting about White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus’ discussions with the FBI over reports that Trump’s top advisers were in contact with Russian government officials. But CNN was not represented at the briefing.
“This is clearly President Trump punishing news organizations for providing basic accountability,” CNN anchor Jake Tapper fumed at the start of his 4 p.m. news broadcast. “They are taking the next step in attempting to avoid checks and balances and accountability. It's not acceptable—in fact, it’s petulant.”
The decision by the White House to exclude some outlets from the gaggle on Friday follows a longstanding anti-media campaign on the part of President Trump. The president recently called reporters “the enemy of the American people,” a charge he repeated during an address at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) earlier Friday.
During the campaign, multiple news organizations including The Daily Beast, Politico and The Washington Post were blacklisted by the Trump team—barred from attending any campaign rallies, press conferences or other events.
Jeff Mason, a White House reporter for Reuters and the president of the White House Correspondents’ Association, said the consortium of reporters “strongly protests” the way the gaggle was handled. Mason said he will raise the issue further with White House staff.