Several major news outlets including The New York Times, CNN and BBC were barred from attending an off-camera White House briefing, an unprecedented move that escalated tensions in the already fraught relationship between the Trump administration and the media. Hours after President Donald Trump blasted the media at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference, declaring that much of the press was “the enemy of the American people”, the White House yesterday invited only a select group of conservative news organisations for the “extended press gaggle”.
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The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, Politico, BuzzFeed, the BBC and the Guardian were among those excluded from the meeting, which was held in White House press secretary Sean Spicer’s office. The off-camera briefing was held in lieu of the daily televised Q-and-A session in the White House briefing room.
When reporters from these news organisations tried to enter Spicer’s office for the gaggle, they were told they could not attend because they were not on the list of attendees. Defending the move, administration spokeswoman Sarah Sanders in a statement rejected that this was the case of denying access to media and said the White House “had the pool there so everyone would be represented and get an update from us today.”
“We invited the pool so everyone was represented. We decided to add a couple of additional people beyond the pool for an expanded pool. Nothing more than that,” the Deputy Press Secretary said. During the gaggle, Spicer told reporters that the Trump Administration will aggressively push back on the inaccurate stories that comes from media.
“I think we’re going to aggressively push back. We’re just not going to sit back and let false narratives, false stories, inaccurate facts get out there,” he said as he defended his decision to leave out The New York Times and the CNN out of the expanded pool gaggle. Earlier in the day, Trump continued his assault on press in a speech before the nation’s largest gathering of conservative activists, for using anonymous sources.
Trump said unethical reporters “make up stories and make up sources” and asserted that he is only against ‘fake news’ media and not press freedom. “I’m not against the media, I’m not against the press. I don’t mind bad stories if I deserve them. And I tell ya, I love good stories, but…I don’t get too many of them. But I am only against the fake news, media or press. Fake, fake. They have to leave that word,” Trump said.
“I’m against the people that make up stories and make up sources. They shouldn’t be allowed to use sources unless they use somebody’s name. Let their name be put out there. Let their name be put out,” Trump said as he vented out his anger and frustration with the news coverage that his presidency has been receiving.
Later on Twitter Trump said the media not telling the truth is a great danger to the country.
“FAKE NEWS media knowingly doesn’t tell the truth. A great danger to our country. The failing @nytimes has become a joke. Likewise @CNN. Sad!,” said the US President who has adopted Twitter as a medium to communicate with his supporters.
The decision to block several news organisations from the briefing was decried by several White House journalists as unprecedented in the modern era. “This is an unacceptable development by the Trump White House,” CNN said in a statement. “Apparently this is how they retaliate when you report facts they don’t like. We’ll keep reporting regardless.”
In a strong editorial, The New York Times said the move was “an unmistakable insult to democratic ideals”. CNN Anchor Jake Tapper said this is not acceptable.
“In fact, it’s petulant…This White House doesn’t seem to value a free press. There’s a word for this. The word is ‘un-American,” he said. “This is an undemocratic path that the administration is travelling,” The Washington Post Executive Editor Martin Baron said.
“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,” he said.
In a statement, the National Press Club president Jeffrey Ballou said it is deeply disturbing and completely unacceptable that the White House is actively running a campaign against a constitutionally enshrined free and independent press. “The action harks back to the darkest chapters of US history and reeks of undemocratic, un-American and unconstitutional censorship,” he said.