On Friday, the White House excluded several news outlets from an off-camera press ‘gaggle’ that took the place of the day’s open press briefing. The barred outlets have uniformly been key players in investigating ties between the Trump administration and Russian leadership, or in framing the issue as dire for the administration’s legitimacy.
The excluded outlets were CNN, Buzzfeed, The Guardian, The LA Times, Politico, The Hill, The Daily Mail, BBC, and The New York Times. While it’s not uncommon for small groups of reporters to be given of-camera White House briefings, veteran reporters have described the explicit exclusion of particular media organizations as unprecedented.
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CNN was the first outlet to report publicly on a long-rumored document from a former British intelligence agent, alleging Trump’s vulnerability to compromise by Russian intelligence. Shortly thereafter, Buzzfeed published the document in full. CNN later reported that some portions of the document had been corroborated by U.S. intelligence investigators.
The Guardian has described the Russia issue as a “crisis of legitimacy” for Trump. Yesterday, it characterized the press embargo itself as a distraction from new reports that the White House had asked the FBI to rebut press stories about Russia ties.
The BBC has described Russia links as the “one controversy [that] has clung to the Trump train like glue.” Politico recently reported on apparent blackmail attempts against former Trump political advisor Paul Manafort, due to his ties to the former pro-Russian president of Ukraine, Victor Yanukovich.
Similar examples could be cited from all of the excluded outlets. The Washington Post did not have a reporter present on Friday, but they might not have been welcome anyway. The Post was first to report on conversations between Russian ambassador Sergey Kilyak and Michael Flynn, ultimately leading to Flynn’s departure.
Some outlets that were invited to the briefing, including Breitbart News, the Washington Times, and One America News Network, have been much more skeptical of the significance of the Russia issue. The One America News Network recently published claims that Crimea “has always been part of Russia” and that “there is no reason for there to be a bad relationship between the United States and Russia”.
Other media organizations invited into the briefing included ABC, CBS, and Bloomberg. The Associated Press and Time were permitted to attend, but declined because other outlets had been blocked.