Invited or not, news outlets criticize White House decision to pick and choose their peers

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Monday, February 27, 2017

On Friday White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer held an informal "gaggle" press briefing but made a point of excluding certain news outlets. The White House's decision has drawn ire from across the field, including organizations invited to the briefing, such as Fox News and The Wall Street Journal.

Sean Spicer, from file.
Image: VOA.

The New York Times and CNN, as well as the BBC, The New York Daily News, Al Jazeera, the LA Times, BuzzFeed, The Hill, and The Daily Mail, were all barred from attending the meeting, while Reuters, NBC, ABC, CBS, Fox News, Bloomberg, and the heavily conservative news outlets Breitbart News, One America News Network, and The Washington Times were admitted. Time, the Associated Press, and some other outlets were invited to the briefing but refused to attend in protest.

Spicer held the meeting in his office rather than the usual briefing room. He told the press the smaller gathering was because Trump had already made a large speech earlier in the day. "We want to make sure we answer your questions, but we don't need to do everything on camera every day." However, he also criticized media coverage of the Trump administration, which President Trump has cited as unfair. "We're going to aggressively push back," one reporter recorded him saying at the gaggle. "We're just not going to sit back and let, you know, false narratives, false stories, inaccurate facts get out there."

This meeting took place the day after CNN issued a report claiming the White House had asked high-level employees at the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation to rebut a story in The New York Times about the Trump administration's alleged ties with Russia and Vladimir Putin.

"Apparently this is how they retaliate when you report facts they don't like. We'll keep reporting regardless," said CNN in a statement.

"Nothing like this has ever happened at the White House in our long history of covering multiple administrations of different parties," said New York Times executive editor Dean Baquet. "We strongly protest the exclusion of The New York Times and the other news organizations. Free media access to a transparent government is obviously of crucial national interest."

"While we strongly object to the White House's apparent attempt to punish news outlets whose coverage it does not like," said Buzzfeed editor-in-chief Ben Smith, "we won't let these latest antics distract us from the work of continuing to cover this administration fairly and aggressively."

BBC bureau chief Paul Denahar was more formal: "We understand there may be occasions when, due to space or circumstances, the White House restricts press events to the established pool. However, what happened today did not fit into that pattern. On this occasion selected media were allowed to attend the briefing and the selected media, including the BBC, were not."

National Review contributor David French also criticized the decision: "The only reason to exclude a news organization from a press briefing should be space available, with space allocated on a viewpoint-neutral basis. [...] It's one thing to bash the press. It's another thing entirely to take steps to deny access to disfavored outlets. When it comes to access, Trump needs to be better than Obama, not worse." He combined these remarks with a discussion of the Obama administration's relationship with Fox News.

Some of the news organizations invited to Spicer's meeting also opposed the exclusion of their peers:

"Some at CNN and New York Times stood with Fox News when the Obama admin attacked us and tried to exclude us," said Fox anchor Bret Baier via Twitter, "a White House gaggle should be open to all credentialed orgs."

"The Wall Street Journal strongly objects to the White House's decision to bar certain media outlets from today's gaggle," added a representative for the newspaper. "Had we known at the time, we would not have participated and we will not participate in such closed briefings in the future."

The White House Correspondents' Association took a milder view: "We're not happy with how things went today," said association president Jeff Mason. "I don't think that people should rush to judgment to suggest that this is the start of a big crackdown on media access."

Donald Trump has stated the mainstream media portrayed the first month of his presidency unfairly, calling some of their reports "fake news" and the press themselves the "enemy of the people" and insisting they refrain from using anonymous sources. "I'm against the people that make up stories and make up sources," he told the Conservative Political Action Committee in Washington D.C.

"President Trump's calls for an end to anonymous sources was alarming. It is not the job of political leaders to determine how journalists should conduct their work, and sets a terrible example for the rest of the world, where sources often must remain anonymous to preserve their own lives," said Joel Simon of the Committee to Protect Journalists.

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