President Trump's relationship with news media has long been fraught with calls of bias and "fake news." On Wednesday that tension escalated when the White House banned a CNN reporter supposedly because she was "shouting" and asking "inappropriate" questions.
“I was blocked from attending an open press event here at the White House because the White House did not like the questions I posed to President Trump earlier in the day," CNN reporter Kaitlan Collins said in an interview with Wolf Blitzer.
On Wednesday afternoon, Collins attended a "press spray" in the Oval Office with Trump and the president of the European Commission, an event she said occurs regularly, and is often reporters' only chance to ask Trump questions that day. As the network pool reporter, she was representing multiple news networks, and took the opportunity to ask the president about the secret recordings made by his lawyer, Michael Cohen.
In a cell phone video of the incident, Collins can be heard saying "Did Michael Cohen betray you, Mr. President?" and "Mr. President, are you worried about what Michael Cohen is going to say to prosecutors?"
Trump ignored her questions, and said "thank you very much," seemingly to end the conversation as an aide repeatedly told reporters, "We're done, we're done, let's go."
Collins then tried a different tack, asking, "Why has Vladimir Putin not accepted your invitation?" Again, Trump ignored her. Collins said she was later asked into communications director Bill Shine's office where Shine and press secretary Sarah Sanders supposedly told her she would not be allowed to attend an open press event later that day because the questions she asked were inappropriate for the venue, and because she had been shouting. According to Collins, they told her other CNN staff would be allowed to attend, just not Collins.
Collins said she defended her actions to Shine and Sanders by explaining that at a routine presser like Wednesday's, any reporter would have asked the same questions about the issues of the day, and that she was representing the other White House correspondents by pressing the president for answers. In fact, in the video, other reporters can also be heard lobbing questions to Trump, though he did not respond to any of them.
The White House Correspondents' Association (WHCA) condemned the restriction of Collins as an attack on the free press. "This type of retaliation is wholly inappropriate, wrong-headed, and weak," WHCA president Olivier Knox said in a statement. “It cannot stand. Reporters asking questions of powerful government officials, up to and including the President, helps hold those people accountable. In our republic, the WHCA supports the prerogative of all reporters to do their jobs without fear of reprisal from the government.”
Fox News president Jay Wallace also chimed in to support Collins and CNN, saying "We stand in strong solidarity with CNN for the right to full access for our journalists as part of a free and unfettered press."
In a statement Wednesday evening, Sanders responded to the backlash by defending the White House's decision. Collins "shouted questions and refused to leave despite repeatedly being asked to do so," she said. "To be clear, we support a free press and ask that everyone be respectful of the presidency and guests at the White House."
Trump frequently lambasts the press, and CNN in particular for unfavorable coverage of his presidency. During a press conference with UK Prime Minister Theresa May on July 13, the president refused to take a question from CNN's Jim Acosta, saying, "CNN is fake news. I don't take questions from CNN." He opted instead for a Fox News correspondent. "John Roberts from Fox, let’s go to a real network."