There’s a media freakout in progress as I write this but it’s not clear yet what the rhyme or reason is for the ban. Reporters are buzzing that right-wing outlets like Fox News, Breitbart, the Washington Times, and One America were allowed in while CNN, the New York Times, the LA Times, BuzzFeed, and Politico were booted, suggesting ideological favoritism. But there’s a hitch: ABC, CBS, and NBC were all allowed in. So were Bloomberg and the Wall Street Journal, whose editorial page is conservative but whose news coverage is not.
What’s going on?
— Jordan Fabian (@Jordanfabian) February 24, 2017
The Associated Press and Time magazine reportedly boycotted the gaggle after the other big outlets were barred. That’s reminiscent of what happened in 2009 when the Obama White House was determined to marginalize Fox News and decided to punish the outlet by excluding it from a media availability for the new pay czar. ABC, CBS, CNN, and NBC decided that if Fox couldn’t attend, they wouldn’t attend either. The White House backed down and reinstated Fox. I’m guessing we will … not see a broad-based walkout to protest Spicer’s decision today.
Some at CNN & NYT stood w/FOX News when the Obama admin attacked us & tried 2 exclude us-a WH gaggle should be open to all credentialed orgs https://t.co/8Vjcs0KCPR
— Bret Baier (@BretBaier) February 24, 2017
It could be that the barred outlets were handpicked to punish them for negative coverage of Trump lately. BuzzFeed famously published the private intel “dossier” on Trump and his aides last month. The NYT and CNN each ran stories last week about Trump campaign aides supposedly having been in regular contact with Russians last year, a claim which the FBI allegedly has called BS. Politico has also regularly run stories about dysfunction within the administration, most recently on Rex Tillerson being sidelined in the administration and the White House clashing with department chiefs over hiring. I don’t know offhand of any major scoops by the LA Times that might have angered Team Trump, though. How’d they end up on the ban list? And surely there’s been negative coverage of Trump among the three broadcast networks who were allowed into today’s gaggle. If kicking out a few noteworthy outlets is the White House’s way of illustrating what Trump said today at CPAC about distinguishing between the media and the “fake news” media, are we to understand from this that they consider NBC part of the first group, not the second?
No explanation yet from Spicer’s office, so stand by for updates. Fairly or not, Trump’s critics will spin this as proof that the White House regards right-wing outlets as creampuffs who won’t ask the tough questions that the Times or CNN would. Spicer’s doing conservative media’s credibility no favors by treating them as favorite children, if that’s what he’s doing, and conservative media will be doing themselves no favors if they let him.
Update: The executive editor of the Times says this has never happened before. Politico notes that “In the past, White House press secretaries would sometimes host small gaggles with ‘expanded pools.’ But the selective invitation of conservative outlets, some of whom have been more than overtly friendly to the Trump administration, is unprecedented.”
Update: Ari Fleischer notes that it’s standard practice for POTUS and staff to handpick which media they talk to but that Spicer shouldn’t have the same luxury:
Calm down everyone. Press secs SHOULD brief/gaggle w all press. But WH staffs & POTUSes often meet w who they want. https://t.co/qefAJdCNJu
— Ari Fleischer (@AriFleischer) February 24, 2017
Update: Not sure how this sort of miscommunication might happen. If this is true, how did so many different media outlets plus the WHCA come to understand that the Times et al. were barred?
White House Deputy Comms. Dir. Raj Shah denies reports of a gaggle block against CNN, NYT, Politico and others: pic.twitter.com/XzgfQJ25w3
— ErikWemple (@ErikWemple) February 24, 2017
Update: Good question via Charles Cooke: What’s the difference between what happened today and the practice embraced by Obama (and Bush before him) of meeting with media from their side of the partisan aisle in off-the-record sessions to push administration talking points? Fleischer would presumably say that the press secretary’s job, to be accountable daily to a variety of media, is different from the president’s, but certainly it’s nothing new for the White House writ large to favor outlets aligned with them politically with extra access.