Several news organizations often critical of the United States President Donald Trump were barred from attending the White House’s daily press briefing last week.
Last Friday, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer allowed a select group of reporters to participate in a private meeting inside his office, instead of holding the usual Press Briefing Room.
Those barred from the briefing last week include The New York Times, BBC, CNN, LA Times, BuzzFeed, The Hill, The Daily Mail and New York Daily News. Those allowed in included far-right news outlets such as Breitbart News and The Washington Times, as well as ABC, NBC, and Fox News.
“Nothing like this has ever happened in the White House in our long history of covering multiple administrations of different parties,” said executive editor of The New York Times Dean Baquet in a statement.“We strongly protest the exclusion of The New York Times and the other news organizations. Free media access to a transparent government is obviously of crucial national interest.”
Other news organizations such as The Associated Press and Time decided to boycott the briefing in order to protest the President’s media favouritism.
During the selective meeting, Spicer focused on how the White House is going to push back against what it considers “false narratives”.
“We’re going to aggressively push back,” Spicer said during a recording of the meeting by one of the reporters allowed to attend. “We’re just not going to sit back and let, you know, false narratives, false stories, inaccurate facts get out there.”
This unusual selectivity is another instance of the Trump administration’s blatant disregard for critical media, which the president has attacked in a number of speeches and tweets as “the enemy of the people.”
“FAKE NEWS media knowingly doesn’t tell the truth. A great danger to our country,” wrote Trump on his Twitter account.
He also dedicated a significant portion of his speech last week at the Conservative Political Action Conference to attacking what he perceives as “fake news” out to smear him.
“I want you all to know that we are fighting the fake news,” said Trump. “It’s fake, phony, fake. They have a professional obligation as members of the press to report honestly. But as you saw throughout the entire campaign, and even now, the fake news doesn’t tell the truth.”
The New York Times fired back at Trump, debuting their first ad campaign in nearly a decade during last weekend’s Oscars. During the ad, a number of contradictory statements about “the truth” flashed by the screen, some of which referenced Trump and his recent attacks on the media. It culminates with the statement that “The truth is hard to find, the truth is hard to know, the truth is mroe important now than ever.”
Trump’s CPAC speech itself was riddled with misleading assertions and blatantly incorrect information. He continually referred to several election polls conducted by ABC, NBC and others as “so bad, so inaccurate” for placing Trump a few points behind his opponent Hillary Clinton. In fact, these polls accurately represented the popular vote, where Trump lost by nearly three million votes, which is what they were measuring.
“The fake news doesn’t tell the truth,” continued Trump. “It doesn’t represent the people, it doesn’t and never will represent the people, and we’re going to do something about it.”
The president also took his speech as an opportunity to attack the media for its use of anonymous sources in reports that were critical of him. He went on to state the media is only claiming to have anonymous sources in order to make up stories that portray him unfavourably.
“They shouldn’t be allowed to use sources unless they use somebody’s name,” he said. “A few days ago, I called the fake news the enemy of the people because they have no sources, they just make it up.”
“Find the leakers,” tweeted Trump on Friday. “The FBI is totally unable to stop the national security ‘leakers’ that have permeated our government.”
Many journalists believe the president is veering into dangerous territory by trying to dictate how the media should perform its function.
The Committee to Protect Journalists, an organization which promotes media freedom, released a statement critical of Trump’s anti-press freedom stance.
“It is not the job of political leaders to determine how journalists should conduct their work, and [this] sets a terrible example for the rest of the world,” said executive director Joel Simon. “The U.S. should be promoting press freedom and access to information.”