Thirty-five days into Trump’s presidency and CNN’s relationship with the White House has already reached this point, huh? Good lord. They’ll be barred from the White House by spring. By summer, Tapper will be doing Olbermann-style “special comments.”
One striking thing about the clusterfark over this afternoon’s gaggle: Although Trump fans are high-fiving over the Times and the “Clinton News Network” being booted out of the event, Spicer and his team refuse to admit that it was punishment for how they’ve covered Trump. Fox News claimed this afternoon that Spicer said the Times, CNN, and other outlets were excluded due to capacity constraints. There are a lot of media orgs that went to sit in on the gaggle and he had to ration space. Simple as that. Another White House spokesman reiterated that:
A White House spokeswoman, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, played down the events in an email on Friday afternoon.
“We invited the pool so everyone was represented,” Ms. Sanders wrote. “We decided to add a couple of additional people beyond the pool. Nothing more than that.”
The media outlets involved are totally unconvinced. Said CNN in a statement, “This is an unacceptable development by the Trump White House. Apparently this is how they retaliate when you report facts they don’t like. We’ll keep reporting regardless.” Other outlets vowed to boycott if it happens again:
“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.”
“Selectively excluding news organizations from White House briefings is misguided and our expectation is that this action will not be repeated,” said Politico editor-in-chief John Harris.
“While we strongly object to the White House’s apparent attempt to punish news outlets whose coverage it does not like, we won’t let these latest antics distract us from continuing to cover this administration fairly and aggressively,” said BuzzFeed editor-in-chief Ben Smith.
McClatchy also promised to walk out the next time colleagues are barred from a press event. Question, then: With the media in high dudgeon, Trump supporters exultant, and Trump himself coming off a bravura media-bashing performance at CPAC this morning, why doesn’t he go the Colonel Jessup route and say that he ordered the code red in barring the Times et al. from today’s briefing to punish them for what he regards as unfair coverage? Assuming it’s true that the Times and CNN wildly exaggerated their stories last week about contacts between Russians and Trump campaign officials, Trump could cite that as grounds for doing what he did. His base would love it, most everyone else would dislike it, but what else is new? I don’t get why Spicer is denying the retaliatory motive here — unless it really was just a very unfortunate coincidence when some of Trump’s biggest media critics ended up shut out of the gaggle today.
The next phase in this melodrama, by the way, will be media organizations boycotting the White House Correspondents Dinner, which in turn will lead to the dinner being canceled entirely. If that happens, it’ll be the biggest accomplishment of Trump’s presidency apart from the Neil Gorsuch appointment. Maybe bigger, depending on how Souter-esque Gorsuch is on the Court.