CNN and other news outlets were blocked Friday from an off-camera White House press briefing, raising alarm among media organizations and First Amendment watchdogs.
The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, Politico and BuzzFeed were also excluded from the meeting, which is known as a gaggle and is less formal than the televised Q-and-A session in the White House briefing room. The gaggle was held by White House press secretary Sean Spicer.
In a brief statement defending the move, administration spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said the White House “had the pool there so everyone would be represented and get an update from us today.”
The pool usually includes a representative from one television network and one print outlet. In this case, four of the five major television networks — NBC, ABC, CBS and Fox News — were invited and attended the meeting, while only CNN was blocked.
And while The New York Times was kept out, conservative media organizations Breitbart News, The Washington Times and One America News Network were also allowed in.
Both CNN and the Times protested the decision.
“This is an unacceptable development by the Trump White House. Apparently this is how they retaliate when you report facts they don’t like. We’ll keep reporting regardless,” CNN said in a statement.
The White House press office had informed reporters earlier in the day that the traditional, on-camera press briefing would be replaced by a gaggle in Spicer’s office, reporters in attendance said.
Asked about the move by the White House Correspondents Association, the White House said it would take the press pool — including one television, one radio and one print outlet — and invite others as well.
The WHCA protested that decision on the grounds that it would effectively amount to a ban on whatever news organizations were not invited, the reporters said. The White House did not budge, and when reporters arrived at Spicer’s office, White House communications officials only allowed in reporters from specific media outlets.
CNN reporters attempted to access the gaggle when it began around 1:45 p.m. ET. As they walked with a large group of fellow journalists from the White House briefing room toward Spicer’s office, an administration official turned them around, informing them CNN wasn’t on the list of attendees.
Asked during the gaggle whether CNN and The New York Times were blocked because the administration was unhappy with their reporting, Spicer responded: “We had it as pool, and then we expanded it, and we added some folks to come cover it. It was my decision to expand the pool.”
Several news outlets spoke out against the White House’s decision.
New York Times executive editor Dean Baquet wrote, “Nothing like this has ever happened at the White House in our long history of covering multiple administrations of different parties. 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.”
The Associated Press and Time magazine boycotted the briefing because of how it was handled.
The White House Correspondents Association also protested the move.
“The WHCA board is protesting strongly against how today’s gaggle is being handled by the White House,” it said in a statement. “We encourage the organizations that were allowed in to share the material with others in the press corps who were not. The board will be discussing this further with White House staff.”
Hours earlier, at the Conservative Political Action Conference outside Washington, President Trump mocked and disparaged the news media. He said that much of the press represents “the enemy of the people.”
“They are the enemy of the people because they have no sources,” Trump said. “They just make them up when there are none.”
He also said reporters “shouldn’t be allowed” to use unnamed sources.
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