For weeks, some media observers have feared a crackdown on press access might come from the White House, amid both President Donald Trump's and administration officials' repeated labeling of sourced reporting from major outlets as "fake news." On Friday, a number of outlets were reportedly forbidden from participating in the White House press gaggle, an informal, off-camera, yet on-the-record chat with press secretary that comes after the daily briefing. If you're disturbed by the press blockage, consider this option: salute the media outlets that boycotted the White House press gaggle in solidarity, because journalists and rival institutions sticking up for each other is sorely needed right now.
Reports indicate that at least five major media outlets were excluded from the gaggle: the New York Times, CNN, Politico, BuzzFeed, and the Los Angeles Times. According to CNN's Elizabeth Landers, members of the foreign press who also typically participated were also disallowed. This was met by a solidarity boycott from at least two other outlets: the Associated Press, and Time.
And both of them should be applauded for it. The divide-and-conquer strategy of media manipulation can be effective, especially in a competitive environment in which one outlet stands to gain from another being cut out of the loop. But that's a downright toxic phenomenon as far as informing the public and protecting the institution of a free, unfettered press is concerned.
It's worth noting that the press gaggle is not the daily briefing, the televised press conferences with Spicer, Rather, it takes place afterwards in the press secretary's office, a customary part of White House press outreach. It's also worth noting that while the aforementioned major outlets were excluded, some decidedly right-wing ones were reportedly allowed to enter ― like Breitbart, One America News Network, and the Washington Times. However, several mainstream outlets, including ABC, NCB, Fox, Reuters, Bloomberg, CBS, Hearst Newspapers and CBS Radio, were present.
The AP put out the following explanation explaining their decision not to attend the gaggle. It simply stated: "AP believes the public should have as much access to the president as possible."
Statement from AP on today's WH gaggle sitch: "AP believes the public should have as much access to the president as possible."— ErikWemple (@ErikWemple) February 24, 2017
And that's precisely why I believe people who care about press freedom should be celebrating and saluting them, even if they're not terribly convinced that Spicer has anything important to say. For me, it's a matter of drawing a bright red line about what won't be tolerated if the next move from the White House tries to curtail access even further.
WSJ statement on participating in today’s WH briefing despite ban of others. “Had we known at the time, we would not have participated…" pic.twitter.com/5QxMPUJRrX— Sydney Ember (@melbournecoal) February 24, 2017
Both the White House Correspondents Association and The Wall Street Journal also weighed in with some condemnation of the treatment of the five outlets.
It remains to be seen whether the list of boycotting news organizations will expand if Spicer tries to keep these outlets out of the gaggle again, given the increased exposure the issue is now getting. On this occasion, at least, Time and the AP deserve credit for standing up, saying "no," and walking out.