Friday 24 February 2017 – Trump administration tries to gag media outlets it doesn’t like | updated: Saturday 25 February 2017

First of all, this is my first post to Donald Dump News in two weeks. This isn’t because Trump has gone quiet in those two weeks, but because I have been in hospital with pneumonia. I am now back home, slowly recovering.


It hardly came as a surprise when Sean Spicer, the White House Press Secretary, personally selected news media outlets who would be allowed to attend private, off-camera, briefings with him. These gatherings are known as “gaggles” and traditionally take place in the James S Brady Press Briefing Room and are usually open to all White House correspondents and media outlets covering the White House.  Sean Spicer, however, has decided to move his “gaggles” to his own office and has hand picked those who will attend, excluding – predictably – numerous newspapers, TV channels and media news outlets who have been criticised by Donald Trump  as part of what he calls “the enemy of the people”. President Trump made this incredible comment at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington DC, adding:


“I’m against the people that make up stories and make up sources,


“They shouldn’t be allowed to use sources unless they use somebody’s name. Let their name be put out there.”


Those barred from the briefings with Mr Spicer include: CNN, BBC, The New York Times, New York Daily News, BuzzFeed, The Hill and The Daily Mail.  Some of those admitted into Mr Spicer’s inner sanctum include: The Washington Times, Breitbart News, One America New Network, ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox News, Reuters and Bloomberg. Dean Baquet, executive editor of The New York Times, who have seen their circulation increase in the face of President Trump’s repeated attacks on its reporting of his administration, said in a statement:


“Nothing like this has ever happened at the White House in our long history of covering multiple administrations of different parties,


“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.”


Ben Smith, the editor-in-chief of BuzzFeed, said


“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 the work of continuing to cover this administration fairly and aggressively.”


This isn’t the first time that a President has attempted to cut out a news media outlet. President Obama attempted to freeze out Fox News in 2009, and Fox News anchor posted on Twitter today:


“Some at CNN and New York Times stood with FOX News when the Obama admin attacked us and tried to exclude us, […] a White House gaggle should be open to all credentialed orgs.”


Today some media outlets, who haven’t been cut out of the loop by Mr Spicer, have protested by boycotting the briefing. They included Associated Press and Time magazine.


This turn of events hasn’t come as a surprise, though it is deeply disturbing nevertheless. On the one hand, President Trump and his advisors lie repeatedly to the media and the public, then on the other hand complain when the media reports the facts – arguing that the facts that papers such as The New York Times consistently reports are themselves lies and somehow a conspiracy against the President and his administration. All this stems, of course, from Donald Trump’s inability to take criticism and his repeated attempts to hide his inability to tell the truth by trying to suggest it is the media who are lying.  The constant attacks by the administration on the media, and the unwillingness by media outlets such as Fox News to pull it up on this behaviour, brings the danger that Trump’s lies will be believed by many. As the old adage goes, tell a lie often enough and people will accept it as truth.  The only answer to Trump’s tactic of demonising the media is for the media to continue and intensify its coverage of the Trump administration. The media needs to continue its attempts to shine a light on the truth behind the President’s lies and it needs to continue to highlight Trump’s blatant hypocrisy.


Fears must be held among media outlets targeted by the Trump administration that the President may try to enshrine in law some measures that will be aimed at curtailing honest investigative journalism. Trump’s statement that the media should name their sources is an example of a possible line of attack that the President may take – forcing through legislation newspapers and media outlets to name their sources before publishing material. It seems incredible that this could ever happen, with the constitutional protections of the First Amendment, but this administration has already shown in the Muslim ban that it has little interest in the sanctity of the US Constitution.


Jeff Mason,  the president of the White House Correspondents’ Association, said his organisation will protest strongly against the ban and encouraged others to co-operate to circumvent the ban:


“The WHCA board is protesting strongly against how today’s gaggle is being handled by the White House,


“We encourage the organizations that were allowed in to share the material with others in the press corps who were not. The board will be discussing this further with White House staff.”


Quality American and world journalists will, of course, continue to investigate and report on what Trump and his administration are up to. If Mr Spicer and President Trump believe that shutting them out of private “gaggle” briefings will stop them criticising them, then they are sadly deluded. If anything, it will intensify the reporting of the Trump administration. Antagonising much of the quality media outlets will do nothing to stem the ongoing reporting, whether that is negative or positive, and is likely to create more reporting that Donald Trump does not like.

UPDATE: Saturday 25 February 2017 (Day 37)


Following on from Sean Spicer’s attempts yesterday to block certain media outlets which are generally perceived in the White House as being anti-Trump from his informal press gathering, known as a gaggle (pictured above), newspapers and media outlets in the United States and beyond have been expressing their contempt for the decision.


The New York Times, which Trump has seemed to focus on in his attacks on so-called  “fake news” when it comes to the reporting of the Trump administration, has been vigorous in its opposition to the move by Mr Spicer. It described the ban as “an unmistakable insult to democratic ideals.” In an editorial the newspaper added: “That First Amendment can be inconvenient for anyone longing for power without scrutiny. Mr. Trump might want to brush up on what it means, and get used to it.” The paper also added: “Nothing like this has ever happened at the White House in our long history of covering multiple administrations of different parties”.


President Trump had earlier repeated his claims that the media was continuing to present “fake news” and that fake news was the “enemy of the American  people,” adding: “As you saw throughout the entire campaign, and even now, the fake news doesn’t tell the truth.”. More significantly, he said that they shouldn’t be allowed to use unnamed sources. This is a direct attack on journalistic procedure and free speech  and implies that Trump believes, or wants his supporters to believe,  the sources were simply made up to present negative news about him. He added on this, that without unnamed sources “You will see stories dry up like you have never seen before.”.  Speaking of the media in general, President Trump said: “I say it doesn’t represent the people, it never will represent the people, and we’re going to do something about it.”


Justifying the ban on certain news outlets from the off-camera “gaggle” at the White House yesterday, the White House Press Secretary was adamant that the access ban wasn’t because of negative coverage of Donald Trump, but then contradicted himself when he said: “We are just not going to sit back and let false narratives, false stories, inaccurate facts get out there.”  Remarkably, a White House spokesman, keeping up the tradition of lying through its teeth, added in a statement:  “Claims that outlets were excluded are not factual. The pool was there, so various media mediums were represented.” Despite the comments out of the White House few seemed to believe that the White House wasn’t directly targeting those Trump has taken a dislike to.`


The Guardian newspaper reported on it’s reporters attempts to attend the gaggle yesterday:


When the Guardian asked to participate, pointing to its possession of a “hard pass” that grants daily entry to the White House, an official declined.

“No, unfortunately a hard pass does not necessarily guarantee entry into the gaggle,” Catherine Hicks, a junior White House press aide, emailed in response.

“The gaggle today is just today’s pool with the addition of a few others here at the White House.”

Some outlets lingered in the West Wing hallway out of frustration but were asked by a Secret Service agent, upon instructions from the White House press office, to leave the area.


The Guardian suggests that the timing of all this is convenient as it distracts news reporting away from the controversy over the revelation that the White House Chief of Staff, Reince Priebus, had tried to influence the FBI’s investigation into potential links between Trump’s associates and Russia. This news today has been conveniently overtaken by the ban on media outlets. Maggie Haberman of the New York Times, reflected this idea in a tweet: “And now, the topic of the evening is the media outlets excluded, not the Priebus interactions w FBI + question of open investigation.”


While it is not uncommon for a selected number of news reporters be invited to a gaggle, and for those that do attend to share their information with the White House press corps, the blatant choice of more right-wing and more Trump-friendly news groups has drawn condemnation. As well as protesting some groups boycotted the gaggle. These included the Associated Press, USA Today and Time magazine. Both The Washington Post and McClatchy said they attended the gaggle  unaware of the exclusions at that point and said their reporters would not have attended if they had known. Both, and others, have said they will not attend future gaggles as long as the exclusions apply. Bret Baier, anchor for Fox News, pointed out yesterday that other news groups supported Fox News when President Obama excluded it in 2009 and that Fox News “joined with all networks in a complaint to the White House about the incident.”


Meanwhile, CNN anchor Jake Tapper said that the ban was ‘not acceptable, in fact it’s petulant. And indicative of a lack of basic understanding of how an adult White House functions”. The Washington Post executive editor said the move was “appalling” and an editorial in the LA Times said: “If the intent was to intimidate reporters into writing fewer things that the administration does not like, and more things that it does, it is doomed to failure.”


Jeff Mason of the White House Correspondents Association called for a collective response: “We encourage the organizations that were allowed in to share the material with others in the press corps who were not. […] The board will be discussing this further with White House staff.”