The White House on Friday barred news outlets — including CNN, the New York Times, Politico and the Los Angeles Times — from attending an off-camera press briefing held by spokesman Sean Spicer, igniting another controversy concerning the relationship between the Trump administration and the media.
The Wall Street Journal, which did participate in the briefing, said in a statement that it was unaware of the exclusions and "had we known at the time, we would not have participated, and we will not participate in such closed briefings in the future."
The Washington Post did not have a reporter present at the time of the gaggle.
CNN's Sara Murray went on air to describe what happened:
We lined up. We were told there was a list ahead of time, which is sort of abnormal, but we put our name on a list. And then when we went to enter, I was blocked by a White House staffer, who said we were not on the list for this gaggle today.
Now, normally, if you were going to do something like this — an extended gaggle, off camera — you would have one person from each news outlet. As you know, we have multiple people from CNN here every day. So, if you're going to do something beyond a pool, which is sort of the smallest group of reporters that then disseminates the information, you would have one person from every news outlet.
That is not what the White House was doing today. What the White House was doing was handpicking the outlets they wanted in for this briefing. So Breitbart, the Washington Times, the One America News Network — news outlets that maybe the White House feels are more favorable were all allowed in, whereas I was blocked from entering, Politico was blocked from entering, the New York Times, the L.A. Times. All of these news outlets were blocked from going to a gaggle.
White House Correspondents' Association President Jeff Mason called in to CNN to say the organization is “still getting information about” the decision, adding:
They clearly wanted to have a gaggle that was not on camera and was not the full press corps today. We don't object to there being briefings like that that aren't always on camera, but we have encouraged them when they want to do something like that ... [to] still do it in the press room and do it in a place where all the reporters have a chance to ask questions.
So, we've made that clear, and we're going to continue to have discussions with them about that. And we're not happy about how this happened today.
The Post's Executive Editor Marty Baron issued the following statement:
“It’s appalling that the White House would exclude news outlets like the New York Times, CNN, Politico, the Los Angeles Times, and BuzzFeed from its publicly announced briefings. This is an undemocratic path that the administration is traveling. There is nothing to be gained from the White House restricting the public’s access to information. We are currently evaluating what our response will be if this sort of thing happens again.”
White House deputy communications director Raj Shah insisted this was all much ado about nothing.
But New York Times Executive Editor Dean Baquet declared that “nothing like this has ever happened at the White House in our long history of covering multiple administrations of different parties.”
BuzzFeed editor in chief Ben Smith, whose outlet also was excluded, added this: "While we strongly object to the White House's apparent attempt to punish news outlets whose coverage it does not like, we won't let these latest antics distract us from continuing to cover this administration fairly and aggressively."
Ben Wizner, director of the Speech, Privacy and Technology Project at the American Civil Liberties Union called the White House's move "yet another disturbing example of the Trump administration’s contempt for the vital role a free press plays in our democracy."
White House press secretary Sean Spicer himself had previously criticized the idea of limiting media access to the White House. Two months ago, in a panel discussion, he said open access for the media is “what makes a democracy a democracy versus a dictatorship.”
But in recent days, the president has grown increasingly critical of what he calls the "fake news media. Hours before the limited-access gaggle, Trump devoted much of an address at the Conservative Political Action Conference to bashing the media.
“A few days ago, I called the fake news media the enemy of the people, and they are,” the president said. “They are the enemy of the people.”
Fox News anchor Bret Baier quickly discouraged gloating on the right, noting that his network's rivals showed solidarity when the Obama White House tried to freeze out Fox News eight years ago.
In 2009, the Obama administration attempted to exclude Fox News from a round of TV interviews with “pay czar” Kenneth Feinberg. Jake Tapper (then of ABC, now of CNN) stood up for one of his network's “sister organizations” during a press briefing.
“Can you explain why it's appropriate for the White House to decide that a news organization is not one?” Tapper asked Robert Gibbs, the White House press secretary at the time.
Rival networks refused to conduct interviews with Feinberg unless Fox News was granted one, too.
Fox Business Network told The Post that one of its reporters, Blake Burman, also was blocked from participating in the gaggle. Fox News chief White House correspondent John Roberts said on air that his network will join others in protesting the exclusion of certain outlets.