White House moves rattle Washington press corps

by WorldTribune Staff, February 26, 2017

The major media’s outrage meter went off the charts after White House spokesman Sean Spicer excluded some elite organizations from a recent press briefing.

Those left behind: Politico, The Washington Post, The New York Times, BuzzFeed, CNN, BBC and the Los Angeles Times. AP and Time boycotted the Feb. 24 briefing in “solidarity”.

Reporters talk after failing to get access to an off camera briefing with White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer and a small group of reporters instead of the normal on camera briefing. /AP

“Banning news organizations is a dangerous practice,” Politico wrote in its Playbook feature on Feb. 25.

“Sure, many White House press secretaries have their favorite outlets, and dish to them. Barack Obama’s White House unloaded news to the New York Times all the time, and had off-the-record sessions with wonky, liberal opinion writers frequently. But what the Trump White House did yesterday was different. They created an invite-only session in place of the White House press briefing.”

Politico claimed that a “source close to the White House” told it that “Trump loves pitting himself against the press and believes that, ultimately, it will bring the American public on his side and boost his approval rating. And, if nothing else, it shifted the press’s focus from Reince Priebus asking the FBI to downplay the Russia hacks to media navel gazing about its own access.”

Reps. Paul Ryan, John Boehner and Nancy Pelosi – the three most recent speakers of the House – “have had their fair share of rough times,” the Playbook column continued. “But they dutifully come out and talk to the press corps every week – at least once. At times they don’t like it – Boehner called it ‘feeding the alligators’ – but they do it.”

Glenn Thrush, chief White House political correspondent for the The New York Times – who was formerly a senior staff writer for Politico – tweeted: “Why Spicer wants hand-picked gaggle: 1) avoid on-camera goof 2) Trump can’t watch a gaggle 3) get press to ‘whine’ 4) sow internal strife”

Peter Baker, also a White House correspondent for The New York Times, tweeted: “Can’t remember any press secretary from Clinton, Bush or Obama canceling briefing and handpicking small group for gaggle. @PressSec”

Statements from news organizations which were excluded:

Politico: John Harris and Carrie Budoff Brown: “We’ve reached out to the White House, and rest assured that we plan to very vigorously assert and defend an independent media’s right to cover the institution of the Presidency. Selectively excluding news organizations from White House briefings is misguided and our expectation is that this action will not be repeated. We have one of the largest teams in Washington covering this White House — a major editorial and financial commitment on behalf of our audience. This commitment is an enduring one, and our coverage of the Trump Administration will of course continue without interruption.”

Washington Post, Marty Baron: “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.”

New York Times, Dean Baquet: “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.”

BuzzFeed: “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.”

CNN: “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.”

Statements from news organizations that were invited:

Wall Street Journal: “The Wall Street Journal strongly objects to the White House’s decision to bar certain media outlets from today’s gaggle. Had we known at the time, we would not have participated and we will not participate in such closed briefings in the future.”

Associated Press: “The AP believes the public should have as much access to the president as possible.”

Bloomberg, John Micklethwait: “I don’t believe that the White House’s decision to exclude major news organizations is in the best interest of keeping the public informed, so in the future we will not participate in exclusionary briefings of the sort that happened today.”

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