Press ban 'an insult to democratic ideals'

Journalists leaving after the White House excluded several major news groups from an off-camera briefing on Friday.
Journalists leaving after the White House excluded several major news groups from an off-camera briefing on Friday.PHOTO: REUTERS

Major news outlets protest after Trump's White House shuts them out of briefing

WASHINGTON • Major US media outlets have condemned as "unacceptable" and an "insult to democratic ideals" a decision by President Donald Trump's White House to bar several organisations, including CNN and The New York Times, from a daily press briefing.

In an escalation of its war on the media, the White House on Friday excluded some news outlets that have provided critical coverage from an off-camera event that replaced the traditional on-camera daily briefing.

Friendly conservative outlets like Fox News, the One America News Network and Breitbart News were allowed to attend, while the BBC and others were excluded.

The White House Correspondents Association said it was "protesting strongly" against the decision, and promised to bring it up with White House staff.

CNN anchor Jake Tapper decried the move as "un-American" while the network's communications department, writing on Twitter, called it "an unacceptable development by the Trump White House" .

NYTimes, in an editorial, said the exclusion was an "unmistakable insult to democratic ideals". And its editor issued a statement that read in part: "Nothing like this has ever happened at the White House in our long history of covering multiple administrations of different parties... Free media access to a transparent government is obviously of crucial national interest."

The White House move came hours after Mr Trump assailed media coverage of his administration at a gathering of conservative activists. He criticised news outlets that he said provide "fake news", calling them the "enemy" of the American people. He also denounced the use of anonymous sources in news reports about his administration.

It is not uncommon for Republican and Democratic administrations to brief select reporters, but the event in question was initially billed as a regular briefing open to credentialled media.

Associated Press and Time magazine reporters walked out of the briefing after hearing that others had been barred.

White House press secretary Sean Spicer said his team decided to have a gaggle in his office on Friday instead of a full briefing in the larger White House briefing room and argued that "we don't need to do everything on camera every day".

A White House spokesman said: "We invited the pool so everyone was represented," referring to the news outlets that cover the White House. "We decided to add a couple of additional people beyond the pool. Nothing more than that."

Media groups were not alone in defending the free press. Mr John Dean, White House counsel for Republican president Richard Nixon in the 1970s, said the Trump media bashing was "more Nixonian than Nixon". Mr Nixon blasted the media as "the enemy" behind closed doors, Mr Dean, 78, told the Democracy Now! radio show. "The big difference is, Trump is doing this right out" and challenging the US Constitution's first amendment that guarantees freedom of speech and of the press. He described it as "very startling and very troubling".

NYTIMES, WASHINGTON POST, REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on February 26, 2017, with the headline 'Press ban 'an insult to democratic ideals''. Print Edition | Subscribe