The White House turned the White House press corps into stage scenery on Friday, and may have violated its own social-distancing rules in doing so.

When reporters gathered in the Rose Garden for what they had been told by White House officials was a presidential news conference, they found several rows of chairs arrayed on the lawn. The seats were spaced far apart, in keeping with the public-health protocols that the White House has observed at indoor and outdoor press events since the coronavirus pandemic took hold in mid-March.

Just before President Trump and top officials emerged from the West Wing, staffers slid the chairs into close formation, bunching reporters shoulder-to-shoulder.

White House officials apparently wanted a tighter television shot, subtly reinforcing Trump’s message that the country is getting back to normal after three months in lockdown.

White House deputy press secretary Judd Deere told ABC News correspondent Jonathan Karl, the president of the White House Correspondents' Association, that the arrangement “looks better” in TV images, according to a statement from the WHCA.

White House press officials did not return a request for comment.

And yet reporters didn’t even get the news conference they were beckoned for, as they were not permitted to ask questions. The reporters were allowed merely to observe the president — and be observed by TV viewers — as he delivered lengthy remarks.

Trump spoke extemporaneously for about 52 minutes, mostly extolling his administration’s effort to fight the coronavirus pandemic and hailing new unemployment figures that he said heralded a rebounding economy, a cornerstone of his reelection campaign strategy. Vice President Pence and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin also had brief turns at the microphone, offering praise for Trump’s policies.

“I noticed you’re starting to get much closer together,” the president said to reporters from the podium. “It looks much better, I must say.”

When the speaking part was over, Trump sat at a desk to sign legislation that eases some of the conditions small businesses must meet to have government-funded Paycheck Protection Program loans forgiven. As other reporters shouted questions, Trump held his index figure at his lips, signaling for silence. PBS reporter Yamiche Alcindor called out that, contrary to Trump’s rosy statements about the economic rebound, black and Asian American unemployment had gone up slightly in the latest figures.

“How is that a victory?” she asked. The president looked up briefly and said to her, “You are something.”

Trump then walked off, leaving reporters shouting more unanswered questions in his wake.

The WHCA objected to the staging in a statement on Friday: “The health of the press corps should not be put in jeopardy because the White House wants reporters to be a prop for a ‘news conference’ where the president refused to answer any questions.”

Deere responded to the Associated Press that he did not think health concerns were warranted: “I would remind you that those in the [press] pool are tested, everyone is temperature-checked and asked if they have had symptoms.”