This post has been updated.
White House press secretary Sean Spicer barred reporters from several large media outlets from participating in a scheduled press briefing Friday. Two months ago, in a panel discussion, he insisted that open access for the media is “what makes a democracy a democracy versus a dictatorship.”
While conservative outlets such as Breitbart, One America News and the Washington Times were allowed into Friday’s briefing, Politico, the New York Times and CNN were not, according to the Times’ Michael Grynbaum. The White House Correspondents’ Association, representing the White House press pool, released a statement indicating that it was “protesting strongly” against the way the briefing was handled. The New York Times’ executive editor, Dean Baquet, told his paper’s reporter that “nothing like this has ever happened at the White House in our long history of covering multiple administrations of different parties.” CNN called it “an unacceptable development” that was “how they retaliate when you report facts they don’t like.” On Twitter, The Washington Post’s executive editor, Marty Baron, called the move “appalling.”
Former George W. Bush spokesman Ari Fleischer defended Spicer on Twitter: “Press secretaries SHOULD brief/gaggle w all press. But WH staffs & POTUSes often meet w who they want.” The problem for Spicer is that he already clearly articulated his views on excluding media outlets from access at the White House: Since it’s a publicly funded operation, it shouldn’t happen.
The subject was raised at an event hosted by Politico in December, before Spicer had been named as President Trump’s press secretary. Politico’s Jake Sherman raised the question of how a Trump White House might deal with outlets it didn’t like, given that some had been blocked from attending Trump campaign events.
“One of the things that the Trump campaign gained notoriety for, and was criticized for, was banning reporters and banning outlets,” Sherman said, noting that Politico was one of those outlets. “You’ve said, I think, that that’s not going to happen . . . ?”
“Look, there’s a big difference between a campaign where it is a private venue using private funds and a government entity,” Spicer replied. “I think we have a respect for the press when it comes to the government. That is something you can’t ban an entity from.”
“Conservative, liberal or otherwise,” he continued, “that’s what makes a democracy a democracy versus a dictatorship. I think there is a vastly different model when it comes to government and what should be expected, and that’s on both sides.”
During the campaign, the bans were much more significant than simply being excluded from one meeting. The Post, for example, was refused press credentials for several weeks. That Spicer has now blocked access to news organizations that had published stories embarrassing to the White House, and that this happened 24 hours after senior White House adviser Steve Bannon had declared war on the press, suggests that the exclusion was precisely the sort of differentiation that Spicer once said he opposed.
Update: The Wall Street Journal, which participated in the briefing, subsequently released a statement.
Update: Audio from the briefing makes clear that Spicer intentionally excluded certain outlets because the White House isn’t going to “sit back and let false narratives false stories, inaccurate facts get out there.”