Even the reporters who are supposed to like the Trump administration are grumbling about the Trump administration these days.
The frustration among conservative media outlets, which cheered for Donald Trump on the campaign trail, has nothing to do with the scandals and policy setbacks engulfing the president. Instead, they say they have become second-class citizens in their access and connections to the president and his closest aides.
Several are upset that big interviews and big scoops have gone to the mainstream news media. And some of the biggest have gone to the New York Times and NBC News, outlets Trump has branded “enemies of the American people.”
“The liberal mainstream media has gotten the big chunks of meat,” said a reporter for a conservative news organization. He added, “It’s infuriating to read [a mainstream news story] and see that they’re talking to them and not us. They’ve forgotten who got them here.”
The complaints come at a time when the mainstream media — particularly The Washington Post and New York Times — has delivered stories that have plunged the White House into its most serious turmoil to date. And it’s another knock against White House press secretary Sean Spicer, whose job security has been questioned over the past week. (Spicer and White House communications director Michael Dubke are the main gatekeepers who determine who gets to interview the president.) Trump reportedly is considering a shakeup in his communications staff; on Tuesday, Fox News host Kimberly Guilfoyle said she has been interviewed for Spicer’s job.
But the griping is also surprising in light of the unprecedented efforts Spicer and other White House officials have made to accommodate Trump-centric media organizations since he took office.
Trump himself has given interviews to such Trump-friendly outlets as Breitbart News, the Christian Broadcasting Network , the Washington Examiner and several to Fox News since the inauguration. The White House has also given press credentials to right-leaning hoax-peddlers like Gateway Pundit and enabled conservative talk-show hosts to ask questions via Skype during daily press briefings.
Not good enough, say several conservative journalists, who commented for this article on condition of anonymity to avoid damaging their relationships with the White House.
“There’s still this outsize focus on trying to work with the establishment media,” said an editor of a conservative journal. “The people who gave Trump 306 electoral votes aren’t reading The Washington Post or watching CNN. They’re reading Breitbart, the Daily Caller, listening to [Laura] Ingraham and watching Fox News. I think they run a risk [with Trump’s core supporters] by keeping the conservative media at arm’s length.”
The journalists took umbrage when Trump ignored them to call New York Times reporter Maggie Haberman and Washington Post reporter Robert Costa to comment on a failed effort to pass a health-care bill in March. They also said Trump’s top advisers, chief of staff Reince Preibus and chief strategist Stephen K. Bannon, gave a rare joint interview to New York magazine in February, but have offered nothing similar to them. (Bannon is the former chairman of Breitbart News.)
One reporter noted that Trump has spoken to four of the five outlets (ABC, CBS, NBC and the New York Times) that he declared “enemies of the American people” in a notorious tweet in mid-February. “They call the establishment media the opposition party,” he said, “but they don’t act like it.
Last week, Trump gave interviews to NBC and Time magazine, again ignoring the conservative media. “This makes him look like a Manhattan snob,” the reporter said. “Those big New York-D.C. media people don’t play in the red states.”
The frustration among conservative journalists has grown to the point that there has been talk among them of breaking away from the venerable White House Correspondents Association to form an organization of their own that would lobby officials for access.
Spicer and his top deputy, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, did not return a request for comment Tuesday.
Several reporters are still sore about the last official White House outreach to the conservative press in late April.
During a White House reception featuring Trump and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross with about 30 editors, reporters and commentators, officials asked journalists to surrender their phones and declared that the meeting was on background. That meant comments could not be attributed to specific speakers.
Afterward, press staffers told the journalists that Trump’s remarks were on the record. But by then many in the group hadn’t taken notes or recorded the remarks, leaving them unable to render specific quotes. What’s more, given the broad guestlist, no one had an exclusive on anything.
“They treated us like children,” said one journalist who attended.
In some respects, Trump’s strategy of playing to the mainstream media shouldn’t surprise anyone, said the editor of another conservative website, who expressed less frustration with the White House.
The New York Times was the respected hometown newspaper during his salad days as a New York developer, he noted, and Time magazine was the gold standard when newsweeklies were prominent and prestigious. The TV networks were the biggest players of all, he said.
“The media he cares about is the media he reads and sees,” said this editor. “There’s a disconnect there between him and his staff. He wants to do the media he watches or reads. His staff has a different strategy at times.”
Several conservative journalists offered differing opinions on whether they’d like to see Spicer stay on the job. But they seem to agree on one thing:
“At the end of the day, all we want is a seat at table,” said one. “We think we’ve earned it.”