WASHINGTON — The Trump administration held an unusual closed briefing with press secretary Sean Spicer Friday, allowing in an extended press pool as well as select news organizations they approved of, while excluding major news organizations the administration has been critical of.
In a recording of the closed press briefing provided by ABC News, Spicer defended excluding outlets, arguing that the Trump administration has "gone above and beyond with making ourselves, our team, and our briefing room [accessible] than probably any prior administration, so I think we can take that to the bank." Spicer also cited the administration's "abundance in accessibility" at the closed press briefing with handpicked outlets.
The confusing actions came on a day when the White House again fought with CNN and the media over a report that they asked the FBI to publicly knock down reports that the agency was investigating communications between the Trump campaign and Russian officials. The White House said it only communicated that to the FBI once the agency itself cast doubt on the stories as inaccurate.
Of the administration's dispute with CNN, in particular, Spicer said they reported "pretty serious accusations, making it appear as if we did something wrong and nefarious when we want to make sure we set the record straight."
On Friday, the administration for the first time included in its guidance a planned press gaggle that was supposed to be on camera. That was changed to off camera, with the White House not informing reporters that they would have to be put on a list. News organizations were put on a list of "interested parties" but then not allowed in. The New York Times, CNN, BuzzFeed News, Politico, and the LA Times were not allowed in. Instead, a group that included handpicked reporters from conservative outlets were invited to chat with Spicer, including Breitbart, One America News Network, and the Washington Times. Some national news outlets, like ABC, were also allowed to attend the briefing.
The Associated Press and Time magazine boycotted the closed briefing.
A reporter could be heard on the phone saying that the Trump administration "excluded a number of news organizations that have been targeted by the president."
In a statement, BuzzFeed Editor-in-Chief Ben Smith 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."
President Trump has made no secret of his disdain for the mainstream media, which he says traffics in "fake news" — a charge he often makes about stories he doesn't like. Of late he has ratcheted up those attacks, calling the media the "enemy of the people" and saying "we're going to do something about it" during his CPAC speech Friday.
The White House Correspondents' Association board also released a statement protesting the closed briefing, saying, "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."