Washington, Feb 25: Several news outlets were blocked from attending an off-camera White House press briefing that other reporters were hand-picked to attend, resulting in outrage among media organisations.
CNN, The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Politico, BuzzFeed, the BBC and the Guardian were excluded from the meeting, which was held on Friday in White House press secretary Sean Spicer’s office.
The meeting, which is known as a gaggle, was held in lieu of the daily televised “Question and Answer” session in the White House briefing room.
When reporters from these news organisations tried to enter Spicer’s office, they were told they could not attend because they were not on the list of attendees.
In a brief statement defending the move, administration spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said the White House “had the pool there so everyone would be represented and get an update from us today”.
The White House press pool usually includes representatives from one television outlet, one radio outlet and one print outlet, as well as reporters from a few wire services. In this case, four of the five major television networks — NBC, ABC, CBS and Fox News — were invited and attended the meeting, while only CNN was blocked.
And while The New York Times was kept out, conservative media organisations Breitbart News, The Washington Times and One America News Network were also allowed in.
“This is an unacceptable development by the Trump White House,” CNN said in a statement.
“Apparently this is how they retaliate when you report facts they don’t like. We’ll keep reporting regardless.”
The New York Times executive editor Dean Baquet said: “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 organisations. Free media access to a transparent government is obviously of crucial national interest.”
The White House press office had informed reporters earlier that the traditional, on-camera press briefing would be replaced by a gaggle in Spicer’s office, reporters in attendance said.
Asked during the gaggle whether CNN and The New York Times were blocked because the administration was unhappy with their reporting, Spicer responded: “We had it as pool, and then we expanded it, and we added some folks to come cover it. It was my decision to expand the pool.”
Several news outlets spoke out against the White House’s decision.
“The Wall Street Journal strongly objects to the White House’s decision to bar certain media outlets from today’s gaggle,” a Journal spokesman said.
“Had we known at the time, we would not have participated and we will not participate in such closed briefings in the future.”
The White House move was called “appalling” by the Washington Post Executive Editor Marty Baron, who said the Trump administration is on “an undemocratic path”.
Politico editor-in-chief John Harris said that “selectively excluding news organizations from White House briefings is misguided.”
The White House Correspondents Association also protested the move.