President Trump has sought repeatedly to punish journalists for the way they ask him questions, directing White House staff to ban those reporters from covering official events or to revoke their press credentials, according to several current and former administration officials.
At various moments throughout his presidency, Trump has vented angrily to aides about what he considers disrespectful behavior and impertinent questions from reporters in the Oval Office and in other venues. He has also asked that retaliatory action be taken against them.
“These people shouting questions are the worst,” Trump has said, according to a current official. “Why do we have them in here?”
Until this week, the officials said, Trump’s senior aides have resisted carrying out his directives. They convinced him that moves to restrict media access could backfire and further strain the White House’s fraught relationship with the press corps, whose members the president routinely derides as “fake news” and “dishonest people.”
On Wednesday, however, newly installed Deputy Chief of Staff Bill Shine and press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders took action against CNN correspondent Kaitlan Collins, telling her she could not attend Trump’s open-media event in the Rose Garden because they objected to her questioning of the president earlier in the day.
The move revealed a fresh willingness inside the West Wing to execute the president’s wishes to punish reporters. It immediately drew a chorus of protest throughout the media, including from Fox News Channel, Trump’s favorite network and Shine’s former employer.
Sanders defended the administration’s approach to the press.
“President Trump is the most accessible president in modern history,” she said Friday. “He has done almost three times as many question-and-answer sessions with reporters as his predecessor, and we continue to provide access to the press in a number of venues and formats every day.”
Olivier Knox, president of the White House Correspondents’ Association, said the group would challenge any further efforts by Trump to curtail the access of reporters who offend him.
“In keeping with the spirit of the First Amendment, reporters who cover the White House should be free to do their jobs without the specter of reprisal from the government,” he said in a statement. “The White House Correspondents’ Association will pursue its mission of advocacy on behalf of a free and independent news media’s ability to chronicle the American Presidency.”
Trump often expresses fury with the way his actions and behavior are covered in the media. He tweets critiques of news coverage almost daily and has openly contemplated cutting off press access.
“Why do we work so hard in working with the media when it is corrupt? Take away credentials?” the president tweeted May 9.
During his campaign, Trump barred reporters from about a dozen media organizations — including The Washington Post, Politico and BuzzFeed — from being credentialed at his rallies, news conferences and other events, and from flying on the press charter plane.
The blacklisted outlets continued to cover Trump’s campaign, with reporters obtaining general-admission tickets to his rallies and traveling on commercial flights. The ban — an unprecedented action by a major-party presidential candidate — was lifted in September 2016, during the general election’s home stretch.
Trump told Time magazine in 2015 that if elected, he would allow news outlets he thought were unfair to him to keep their White House credentials, but he added, “It doesn’t mean I’d be nice to them.”
“I tend to do what I do,” he said. “If people aren’t treating me right, I don’t treat them right.”
As president, Trump has not stripped any news organization of its credentials at the White House, which is a public institution rather than a private campaign. But throughout his 18 months in office, he has privately discussed with aides retaliating against individual journalists, officials said.
Among those who have angered Trump are reporters from CNN, NBC News and The Post, officials said. Two reporters in particular have drawn the president’s ire on multiple occasions: Jim Acosta, CNN’s chief White House correspondent, and April Ryan, Washington bureau chief for American Urban Radio Networks and a CNN contributor.
Trump’s irritation has flared the most when he has been peppered with questions from reporters on formal occasions, such as Rose Garden announcements, or during what are known as press pool sprays, when a handful of journalists representing the White House press corps covers meetings or events in the Oval Office, Cabinet Room or Roosevelt Room. He also has taken issue with the questions posed to Sanders and other officials at White House press briefings.
Behind closed doors, Trump often has vented about these types of encounters. He has asked, “Is there nothing that we could do?” according to a former White House official.
Trump has told aides to revoke credentials, deny access to upcoming events or contemplate other punishments, but it was not always clear to them whether he was issuing an order or merely letting off steam.
In past instances, top advisers, including Sanders and former communications director Hope Hicks, would try to talk Trump out of taking action, according to officials with knowledge of the conversations. They argued that doing so would only give more attention to the questions he did not like and suggested that if he did not want to answer those questions, he should simply ignore them.
Furthermore, aides warned Trump that the press corps, made up of scores of news organizations with competing interests, would band together in protest.
Sanders and Hicks declined to comment about their interactions with the president.
Reporters routinely ask Trump questions about the news of the day, and many times the president answers — sometimes engaging in a lengthy back-and-forth on multiple topics. When he does not want to answer, he typically says “Thank you,” and staffers hurry reporters out of the room.
White House officials say Trump objects more to the tone of questions than the substance, saying he feels disrespected when reporters pepper him with questions in front of guests, particularly when a foreign dignitary is visiting.
“This president obviously isn’t afraid of questions,” counselor Kellyanne Conway told a gaggle of reporters Thursday. “We answer them routinely.” Rather, she said, the president objects to “the shouting and the pouting long after the press corps has been politely asked to leave the room.”
Earlier this month, as The Post has previously reported, Trump grumbled to aides about a question he was asked by Associated Press reporter Jonathan Lemire at his Helsinki news conference with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Lemire asked whether Trump would, “with the whole world watching,” denounce Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential campaign. The president demurred and later complained to aides that Lemire had been called on, rather than someone more likely to lodge a softball question. Aides told the president that most journalists would have asked a similarly tough question.
In Wednesday’s incident, Collins was the pool reporter representing the five major television news networks in the Oval Office for Trump’s meeting with European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker. As the two presidents sat in armchairs, Collins asked Trump whether he felt betrayed by Michael Cohen, his former lawyer and fixer, who had released an audio recording of one of their conversations. She also asked about his invitation to Putin to visit Washington.
Collins later said on CNN, “Those questions were questions any reporter would have asked, and I was there to represent all of the networks and therefore ask about the questions of the day.”
In the past, aides have argued to Trump that retaliating against a reporter would end up elevating that journalist to stardom, an argument that carries special resonance for a president loath to share the spotlight or help others profit.
That is what has happened with Acosta, whose frequent tangles with Trump and administration officials have helped raise his profile.
This month in England, Trump snapped at Acosta when he tried to ask a question during his joint news conference with British Prime Minister Theresa May.
“I don’t take questions from CNN,” Trump said. “CNN is fake news.”
Trump then called on John Roberts of Fox News, saying, “Let’s go to a real network. John, let’s go.”
Acosta replied, “Well, we’re a real network, too, sir.”