As It Happens

Reporter barred from White House press briefing says Trump team hand-picking media is 'worrying'

The Trump administration's choice to bar some media outlets from a White House press briefing could be an attempt to turn media against each other or deflect attention away from more important stories, the Guardian's White House correspondent says.
White House press secretary Sean Spicer, seen here taking questions from reporters, held an informal briefing today to which only some media outlets were invited. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

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The Trump administration's choice to bar certain media outlets from a White House press briefing today is "unprecedented" and "worrying," says the Guardian's White House correspondent David Smith.

Smith was among those reporters barred from attending an informal briefing with White House press secretary Sean Spicer on Friday. Also turned away were CNN, the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, Politico, BuzzFeed and more.

Three broadcasters — CBS, ABC, and NBC — were there, as well as conservative-leaning outlets Breitbart News, The Washington Times and One America News Network.

David Smith says he's never had trouble accessing a press briefing at the White House before Friday. (@smithinamerica/Twitter)
"As long as your credentials are in order, you can usually get in, and I've never had a problem. Actually, the United States is pretty advanced generally compared to other countries I've worked in," Smith told As It Happens guest host Helen Mann. "Today marks a significant and worrying change." 

Some have noted, however, that in 2009, the Obama administration tried to block Fox News from a series of round-robin interviews with a Treasury Department official. In that case, the other news outlets refused to participate.

The White House has defended the move by noting the event was a not an official briefing, but rather a "gaggle" — media talk for a smaller, more informal press gathering.

"There was representation from all mediums of press to include TV and print  and they were able to distribute the information to their colleagues," White House spokeswoman Stephanie Grisham said in a statement.

​The move comes the same day U.S. President Donald Trump blasted the media in a speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference, again referring to several outlets as "fake news," re-asserting his position they are the "enemy of the people" and saying reporters should be banned from using anonymous sources.

"It was really interesting timing," Smith said.

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Eye on the prize

Another interesting aspect of the timing, he noted, is that it comes on the heels of a CNN report alleging the White House had asked the FBI to shut down media reports about alleged communications between Trump associates and Russian officials. 

Trump and his camp are masters of these deflective tactics.- David Smith, the Guardian 

Smith says it's possible the Trump administration barred some media from the briefing so journalists would focus their reporting on that and give less ink and air time to the Russia story.

"It's a strong theory because we've seen it so often before. Trump and his camp are masters of these deflective tactics," he said.

"I think the average citizen doesn't actually care that much about the dynamics about which journalists got into a press briefing and which didn't. For many, that would be seen as sort of inside the beltway, inside baseball stuff."

Media solidarity?

Still, Smith says, it's impossible for the media not to become the story under an administration that attacks it and brands it "the opposition partry."

Much like in the 2009 Fox incident, some outlets, including CNN and the New York Times, have taken strong stances against the move.

Time magazine and the Associated Press newswire both boycotted the briefing.

"I think that's admirable, but I always think it's a dilemma with these sort of things because those journalists who did attend made recordings, which they then distributed ... so I think that's admirable too," Smith said.

"All of this points to the wider issue that Trump will try to divide and rule the media, try to pick favourites, try to play us off each other.

"The media's very competitive and it's a tricky thing for us to balance co-operation and competition on something like this."

For more on this story, listen to our full interview with David Smith.