LOS ANGELES (CBSLA.com/AP) — News organizations including the Los Angeles Times, the New York Times, CNN and Politico were blocked from joining an informal, on the record White House press briefing on Friday.
CNN political reporter Sara Murray said the White House was “handpicking” which news outlets were allowed into the meeting – which is known as a gaggle and is less formal than the televised Q-and-A sessions held in the White House briefing room – with Press Secretary Sean Spicer.
In response, CNN released the following statement: “This is an unacceptable development by the Trump White House. Apparently this his how they retaliate when you report facts they don’t like. We’ll keep reporting regardless.”
Several major news organizations were allowed in, including CBS, NBC, ABC and FOX, along with the conservative website Breitbart News. The site’s former executive chairman, Steve Bannon, is chief strategist to President Donald Trump.
The Associated Press chose not to participate in the gaggle following the move by White House press secretary Sean Spicer. Lauren Easton, the AP’s director of media relations, said in a statement, “The AP believes the public should have as much access to the president as possible.”
The White House Correspondents’ Association also released a statement sharply criticizing the decision.
“The WHCA board is protesting strongly against how today’s gaggle is being handled by the White House,” Jeff Mason, the association’s president, 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,” he added. “The board will be discussing this further with White House staff.”
The White House defended the decision not to include some news organizations.
White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said: “We invited the pool so everyone was represented. We decided to add a couple of additional people beyond the pool. Nothing more than that.”
Steven Portnoy, White House and congressional correspondent for CBS Radio News, was one of about 15 reporters who took part in the gaggle in Spicer’s office and told KNX 1070 NEWSRADIO the move may have been in response to a New York Times story about alleged contacts between Trump campaign officials and Russian intelligence officials.
While barred media outlets protested the action, some Trump supporters pointed out a similar rift when the Obama administration attempted to exclude Fox News from a media availability with “pay czar” Kenneth Feinberg in Oct. 2009.
Washington bureau chiefs from the TV networks included in the White House pool refused to interview Feinberg unless Fox News was included.
Fox News’ Bret Baier made reference to that scenario and called for any White House gaggle to be “open to all credentialed orgs”.
Following Thursday’s exclusion, former Bush 43 press secretary Ari Fleischer called on media organizations upset over the move to “calm down”, noting that White House staffers “do it all the time”.
Others pointed to when former President Obama in 2012 hosted what was billed as his “first completely virtual interview” in a press event hosted by Google+ that “took place in the White House’s Roosevelt Room without the presence of television cameras or reporters”, according to The Hill.
That event, The Hill reported, came after Obama had not “fielded a single question in a press conference setting in months.”
Speaking hours earlier at the Conservative Political Action Conference outside Washington, President Trump took aim at much of the mainstream news media, saying much of it represents “the enemy of the people.”
“They are the enemy of the people because they have no sources,” Trump said. “They just make them up when there are none.”
He also said reporters “shouldn’t be allowed” to use unnamed sources.
CBS2’s Kristine Lazar on Friday spoke to Richard Reeves, a professor at the USC Annenberg School For Journalism and a former New York Times White House Correspondent during the Nixon years.
“Nixon hated the press most of the time,” said Reeves, “But he understood their role in a democracy.”
Reeves called today’s incident “a fairly early battle is what is going to be a war.”
The LA Times issued a statement that read in part:
“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.”
(© Copyright 2017 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)