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Selectively denying press access takes toll on accountability


March 2, 2017

On Feb. 24, a number of news organizations were excluded from an off-camera White House press briefing, while others were selectively chosen to attend. This is a gross violation of the rights of the press as government watchdogs.

The briefing, called a gaggle, was held in White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer’s office. News organizations not invited to participate included The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, Politico, the BBC and CNN. Major television networks Fox News, ABC, NBC and CBS were all invited, as was the conservative-leaning Breitbart News.

One of the roles of journalists is to hold officials accountable for what they do. It is our duty to inform the public of the potential changes happening in our government and explain how those changes could impact people’s lives. Holding off-camera, private briefings blocks this and limits accountability.

According to NBC News, the gaggle was initially expected to be attended by a pool of reporters, or a limited number of journalists who rotate and share information. However, the pool was later expanded, thus allowing a select set of additional reporters into the room. Hallie Jackson of NBC and MSNBC reported that she witnessed representatives from CNN being turned away after she was allowed in.

It makes sense to want limit the number of people in the room, especially when those in the room promise to share information with other outlets. However, when this is done, it is important to make sure that the decision is not made in a way that seems to intentionally exclude those who have reported facts you dislike.

President Trump has taken issue with outlets like The New York Times and CNN before, so this hardly seems like a coincidence. This is especially true when considering that the New York Times typically has seats reserved in the on-camera daily briefings.

Earlier that same day, in front of a crowd at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Maryland, Trump referred to the media as the “enemy of the people” and echoed his familiar claims about fake news being reported about him and his administration.

It seems ironic that Trump is concerned about the news media trying to discredit him, yet his administration is excluding credible news sources from the chance to report actual facts.

Regardless of these enraging actions, we as journalists will remain dedicated to reporting the truth.