February 24, 2017

Several news organizations boycotted the White House press gaggle this afternoon after the White House excluded CNN and other outlets from attending.

Press gaggles — on-the-record scrums with communication staffers that disallow video recording — are a staple of White House reporting, and it’s highly unusual for a reporter to be barred from the meeting. Today, after Trump delivered a stinging (and contradictory) critique of the media, The New York Times, CNN, the L.A. Times, Politico and BuzzFeed were prevented from attending.

The Associated Press and Time boycotted the gaggle in solidarity with their colleagues. Other news organizations, including The Wall Street Journal, One America News Network and Fox News were allowed in and did not boycott the gaggle.

Related Training: Access Denied: Your Rights When Government Shuts Media Out

Jeff Mason, the president of the White House Correspondents’ Association, said his group is “protesting strongly” the ban and encouraging those news organizations who were allowed in to share their notes.

“The WHCA board is protesting strongly against how today’s gaggle is being handled by the White House,” Mason 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.”

The White House sought to downplay the episode, noting that a press pooler was invited into the briefing as a stand-in for the press corps writ large.

“We invited the pool so everyone was represented,” a White House spokesperson told Poynter in an email. “We decided to add a couple of additional people beyond the pool for an expanded pool. Nothing more than that.”

Later Friday, Politico published an audio recording of the gaggle. Sean Spicer, the White House press secretary, is confronted by a reporter who asks whether The New York Times and CNN were excluded because the White House was unhappy with their reporting. Spicer denies it, but adds “we’re going to aggressively push back. We’re not just going to sit back and let…false narratives, false stories, inaccurate facts, get out there.”

A representative from The Wall Street Journal said the Journal would have not joined the gaggle had they known it was an exclusive event.

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

A reporter for Bloomberg, who attended the briefing, learned that some news outlets had been excluded only moments before the gaggle began.

In a statement from its corporate account, CNN called the ban “unacceptable.”

Dean Baquet, the Executive Editor for The New York Times, noted that the decision to exclude the newspaper was unprecedented in its 150 year-plus history:

“Nothing like this has ever happened at the White House in our long history of covering multiple administrations of different parties,” Baquet said in a statement. “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.”

In a statement, BuzzFeed said they wouldn’t “let these latest antics distract us from continuing to cover this administration fairly and aggressively.”

Washington Post Editor Marty Baron called the ban “appalling” in a statement:

“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,” Baron said. “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.”

Politico Editor-in-Chief John Harris and Editor Carrie Budoff Brown said Politico plans to “very vigorously assert and defend” the media’s right to cover the presidency.

“Selectively excluding news organizations from White House briefings is misguided and our expectation is that this action will not be repeated,” the statement read. “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.”

The Los Angeles Times “will continue to report on the Trump administration without fear or favor,” despite being shut out of the gaggle, said Editor and Publisher Davan Maharaj.

“It is unfortunate that the Los Angeles Times has been excluded from a White House press briefing today,” Maharaj said. “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. Regardless of access, The Times will continue to report on the Trump administration without fear or favor.”

The Huffington Post was also barred from today’s briefing, according to a statement from Editor-in-Chief Lydia Polgreen, who said she is “deeply disturbed” by the exclusion in a statement:

“We are deeply disturbed by this decision and are heartened that other members of the White House Correspondents Association decided to protest the gaggle in solidarity,” Polgreen said. “We hope that the White House will recognize the vital importance of including all credentialed media outlets when briefing reporters on matters of undeniable public interest.”

The News Guild weighed in Friday, saying that the restricted gaggle is a move befitting “a dictatorship.”

“Certainly this was a calculated effort and intended to send a message punishing news outlets that the administration does not like,” the statement read. “One might expect this in a dictatorship but not in America where freedom of the press is a constitutional right. We call on all elected officials to state their dissatisfaction and for all citizens to directly contact the White House complaining about this affront to freedom.”

In a statement, the Committee to Protect journalists also expressed concern:

Although unprecedented for the Trump administration, today’s move is in line with steps taken by Trump’s team during the campaign. In the months leading up to Election Day, Trump’s campaign prevented so-called “blacklisted” news organizations, including The Huffington Post, The Washington Post and BuzzFeed, from attending his rallies as credentialed journalists.

During the presidential transition, the White House floated the possibility of evicting reporters from the James Brady briefing room entirely. The proposal would have seen them relocate to a conference center across the street.

The immediate reaction to today’s restriction was surprise among seasoned White House reporters who’ve never seen this kind of treatment before.

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Benjamin Mullin is the managing editor of Poynter.org. He previously reported for Poynter as a staff writer, Google Journalism Fellow and Naughton Fellow, covering journalism…
Benjamin Mullin

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