The White House has blocked several news outlets, including CNN and the New York Times, from a press briefing.
Instead of the usual on-camera briefing, Press Secretary Sean Spicer decided to hold an off-camera ‘gaggle’ with only selected reporters. A ‘gaggle’ is a specifically informal meeting held by the Press Secretary, which does not allow video recordings to be made. CNN, the New York Times, The Hill, Politico, Buzzfeed, the Daily Mail, the BBC, the Los Angeles Times and the New York Daily news were among those denied entry.
NBC, CBS and Reuters were some of the news providers and agencies allowed in to the meeting, along with the right-leaning Breitbart- the former workplace of White House strategist Steve Bannon.
The Associated Press and Time magazine were both invited, but declined to attend. The White House Correspondents’ Association released a statement saying they are “protesting strongly” against the decision.
The WHCA statement continued, “We encourage the organisations that were allowed in to share the material with others”.
It is highly irregular for the White House to limit which outlets can cover official press events. In the event that only a limited pool of reporters can attend, if there is a space restriction for example, there is an agreed ‘in-house pool’ of 21 reporters who will cover the event. It appears that the White House has used a different, as yet undisclosed, criteria to select today’s group.
Executive editor of the New York Times, Dean Baquet, said in a statement “We strongly protest the exclusion… Free media access to a transparent government is obviously of crucial national interest”.
White House reporters have reacted with shock and anger at the move, with some comparing the move to anti-democratic authoritarian regimes.
CNN’s Sarah Murray went as far as to accuse the White House of wanting to “select news outlets that would be more favourable”.
Some news organisations have levelled the accusation that the move is a tactic to contain reports that White House chief of staff Reince Priebus pressured the FBI to quash stories of Trump campaign officials making contact with Russian intelligence organisations.
This behind-closed-doors press conference took place just hours after President Trump continued his attack on the ‘fake’ media, at the CPAC conservative conference. Trump claimed that many of the unnamed sources used by the press are “made up”. He asked that media name all their sources, going against years of journalistic precedent . However, media have been quick to point out that Trump has not always stayed true to that rule himself. In 2012, he cited “An ‘extremely credible source’” as the root of claims that President Barack Obama’s US birth certificate is fake.
Trump has attacked the media throughout his campaign and nascent Presidency, and as recently as Sunday 19 February accused the media of lying, and declared their agenda to be different from that of the American people.