News organizations including The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, CNN and Politico were blocked from joining an informal, on-the-record White House press briefing on Friday.
The Associated Press chose not to participate in the gaggle after White House press secretary Sean Spicer restricted the number of journalists present for the briefing. Typically, the daily briefing is televised and open to all news organizations credentialed to cover the White House.
“The AP believes the public should have as much access to the president as possible,” Lauren Easton, the AP’s director of media relations, said in a statement.
On Friday, hours after President Donald Trump delivered a speech blasting the media, Spicer invited only a pool of news organizations that represents and shares reporting with the larger press corps. He also invited several other major news outlets, as well as smaller organizations, including the conservative website Breitbart News, whose former executive chairman, Steve Bannon, is Trump’s chief strategist. When additional news organizations that included The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, CNN and Politico attempted to gain access, they weren’t allowed to enter.
The White House said it felt “everyone was represented” by those in the pool and the invited organizations.
“We decided to add a couple of additional people beyond the pool. Nothing more than that,” said White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders.
When asked by a reporter attending the gaggle whether he was playing favourites, Spicer said the White House had “shown an abundance of accessibility,” according to an audio recording of the gaggle later circulated by the pool.
The pool was comprised of Reuters, Bloomberg, CBS, Hearst Newspapers and CBS Radio. Others in the gaggle were Fox, NBC and ABC. Bloomberg reported that its reporter was unaware of the exclusions until after the gaggle.
In a statement, White House Correspondents’ Association President Jeff Mason said the group was “protesting strongly” against how the gaggle was handled by the White House.
When Spicer was asked by a reporter at the gaggle whether he was playing favourites, he said he “disagreed with the premise of the question,” according to the audio.
“We’ve brought more reporters into this process. And the idea that every time that every single person can’t get their question answered or fit in a room that we’re excluding people. We’ve actually gone above and beyond with making ourselves, our team, and our briefing room more accessible than probably any prior administration. And so I think you can take that to the bank.
“We do what we can to accommodate the press. I think we’ve gone above and beyond when it comes to accessibility, and openness and getting folks _ our officials, our team.”
Reaction from the barred outlets and others was swift.
Davan Maharaj, editor in chief and publisher of the Los Angeles Times, called the newspaper’s exclusion “unfortunate.”
“The public has a right to know, and that means being informed by a variety of news sources, not just those filtered by the White House press office in hopes of getting friendly coverage,” Maharaj said in a statement. “Regardless of access, the Times will continue to report on the Trump administration without fear or favour.”
Dean Baquet, executive editor of The New York Times, said that “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.”
CNN’s Jake Tapper took aim at the White House as he kicked off “The Lead with Jake Tapper” hours after the gaggle.
“A White House that has had some difficulty telling the truth and that has seemed to have trouble getting up to speed on the basic competent functioning of government, and a president who seems particularly averse to any criticism and has called the press the enemies of the American people—they’re taking the next step in attempting to avoid checks and balances and accountability.
“It’s not acceptable. In fact, it’s petulant, and indicative of a lack of basic understanding of how an adult White House functions,” Tapper said.
The Committee to Protect Journalists also condemned the move by the White House.
“We are concerned by the decision to bar reporters from a press secretary briefing,” CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon said in a statement. “The U.S. should be promoting press freedom and access to information.”