Despite CNN ban, other network anchors meet off the record with Trump to discuss the State of the Union


Citation Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

So much for solidarity of the press.

Last night, Brian Stelter reported that CNN personalities would be banned from an off-the-record White House lunch meeting with President Donald Trump and television news anchors before the State of the Union address this evening. (While unseemly, the practice is traditional.)

Many called for other networks to not attend today’s event as a show of support for CNN, such as they did when Trump blacklisted the network previously. Just yesterday, many U.K. journalists walked out in protest after an aide to Prime Minister Boris Johnson tried to bar some reporters from attending a briefing.

And yet, it seems that none of the media figures invited to the White House today could be bothered to meet even this low bar. Instead, C-SPAN’s communications director tweeted and then deleted pictures showing attendees enjoying a swanky meal with the president.

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A very limited portion of the event -- essentially just Trump’s gossip about New York state politics -- was on the record:

Trump reportedly told those assembled that he planned to give the Medal of Freedom to Rush Limbaugh, who recently announced that he was diagnosed with advanced lung cancer.

Meanwhile, Fox News anchor Bret Baier couldn’t even be upfront about CNN being banned, instead cryptically saying on-air that one network simply wasn’t present.

Video file

Citation From the February 4, 2020 edition of Fox News' The Daily Briefing With Dana Perino: 

Update (7:45 p.m. EST): Lloyd Grove reports about the sorry scene at the lunch:

Trump and his lovingly admiring vice president, Mike Pence, sat directly across from each other. The president was flanked by O’Donnell and Fox News anchor Martha MacCallum; Pence, meanwhile, drew Todd and Fox News’ Bret Baier as his lunch partners. Also enjoying the cuisine—but staying away from the offered Chardonnay—were PBS’s Judy Woodruff, C-SPAN’s Steve Scully, CBN’s David Brody, and Newsmax’s Emerald Robinson, formerly a Pizzagate conspiracy theorist at Trump’s favorite media outlet, One America News Network.

Trump indicated that tonight’s speech will run to one-and-a-half hours, and he planned to mention but spend little time talking about the ongoing impeachment proceedings. That, he said, will be reserved for the barn-burner he plans to deliver on Wednesday after the Senate acquits him.

“It’s going to be low-key,” Trump said.

“Are you sure want to call it ‘low-key?’” Chuck Todd demanded—which was about as hardball as the questioning got.

While Trump fielded earnest queries about troop deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the United States’ recent confrontation with Iran (“Nobody knows how close we came to war,” the president confided in an answer to Holt), nobody saw fit to challenge him on his regular attacks on members of the press the “enemy of the people,” “scum,” and other choice epithets.