Trump Administration House Bars Major Media Organizations From Latest Press Briefing
MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
The relationship between the Trump administration and the news media has taken another step backwards. Earlier today, President Trump tweeted that he will not be attending this year's White House Correspondents' Dinner, which may not be surprising given President Trump's blistering attack on the news media yesterday during his speech to the annual gathering of the Conservative Political Action Committee.
A few hours later, the White House barred some news outlets from attending an off-camera question-and-answer session held by spokesman Sean Spicer. CNN, The New York Times, Politico and the Los Angeles Times were all prevented from attending the briefing, whereas outlets seen as more friendly to the administration were allowed inside, like Breitbart - which Trump's close adviser, Steve Bannon, formally ran - The Washington Times and the One America News Network.
We wanted to find out more about this, so we called NPR's media correspondent, David Folkenflik. He's with us now. David, what happened here?
DAVID FOLKENFLIK, BYLINE: What happened is Sean Spicer, whatever you think about him, does hold a lot of briefings. In this case it was called a gaggle. And that is off-camera. So he invites in what are called pool reporters. They sort of represent the radio press, the print press, TV, the like. And then he invited in this small coterie, as you say, of conservative outlets. Notably absent were CNN, The New York Times and a number of other major news outlets. Some of those outlets had done coverage in recent days that upset the White House and particularly the president, who made those remarks yesterday morning. Sean Spicer was asked what the president had in mind, and here's what he had to say.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER #1: This banner on CNN right now that says CNN and others have been blocked from media briefings - are CNN and The New York Times not in here right now because you're unhappy with their reporting? Why are they not in here?
SEAN SPICER: Because we had a pool and then we expanded it, and we added some folks to come and cover it.
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER #1: But there's enough room for others in here.
SPICER: It was my decision to decide to expand the pool. Yeah.
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER #2: Sean, the president said today at CPAC, we're going to do something about it in reference to these stories that he is saying are false by The New York Times and CNN and others. What is he talking about there?
SPICER: I'm sorry, say the beginning.
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER #2: He said, we are going to do something about it when he was referencing...
SPICER: Well, I mean, I think we're going to aggressively push back. We're just not going to sit back and let, you know, false narratives, false stories, inaccurate facts get out there.
FOLKENFLIK: Now, Spicer said that wasn't the reason that CNN and The New York Times were shut out of that gaggle. But it sure looks as though this is a new form of pushback that Spicer's describing.
MARTIN: Now, New York Times executive editor Dean Baquet said that nothing like this had ever happened at the White House in the Times' long history of, quote, "covering multiple administrations of different parties," unquote. Other organizations struck a similar note. What does your reporting say about this?
FOLKENFLIK: Well, certainly nothing in this specific manner has occurred before that I can find. I think reporters are taken greatly aback. I mean, you can always have Spicer not be particularly responsive to a given news organization, but not let them be present if they're inviting in a significant group of others beyond the pool just hasn't happened.
MARTIN: So now some conservatives are pushing back on people saying how unprecedented this is, saying that the Obama White House tried to exclude Fox from the press pool and from some significant interviews back in 2009. What's your reporting say about that?
FOLKENFLIK: Well, I think it's absolutely true that on a number of occasions White House officials made the argument that Fox News and its reporting and its commentary had been unfair at times, circulating groundless claims about President Obama personally, as well as his policies, that were beyond the pale. But I got to tell you, at that time - and I remember these instances well - other Washington reporters and other Washington bureau chiefs stood up for Fox News and said, you know, you're not going to shut out our competitors merely because you don't like the way in which they cover you.
MARTIN: Now, people critical of this have said - have framed it as an attack on the free press and an attempt to limit the American people's access to information from the White House. Do you see it that way?
FOLKENFLIK: I think it's a multi-layer reaction. Part of it is, I think, that it reflects the inclination and gut instincts of the president himself, who seeks adulation from the press and attention. And when he doesn't get it in the way he wants, he gets very angry. I think that there is a stoking of that and an encouragement of that in a certain wing of the White House - let's say the Steve Bannon wing - that sees that as offering red meat to part of the base that got President Trump elected.
And I do think it's also reflective of what at least seems to be a lack of interest or an antipathy in the White House towards the free flow of information. There seems to be much more controlling desire by the administration than we would perhaps want to encourage.
MARTIN: That's NPR media correspondent David Folkenflik. David, thank you.
FOLKENFLIK: You bet. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.