Rumored Ouster Of White House Press Corps Was Months In The Making

Rumored Ouster Of White House Press Corps Was Months In The Making

››› ››› CRAIG HARRINGTON, JARED HOLT, CYDNEY HARGIS & ZACHARY PLEAT

According to reports, the incoming Trump administration has given “serious consideration” to the idea of removing the permanent press corps from the White House. This potential exclusion of the press from White House access has been months in the making, with President-elect Donald Trump, his political allies, and his right-wing media sycophants clamoring for the next administration to restrict access for outlets that have criticized his policies and statements and attacking the press in general. Meanwhile, the president-elect has been building up alternative, pro-Trump outlets.

Trump Administration Considering Removing White House Press Corps

The Trump Administration Reportedly May “Evict The Press From The White House.” A January 14 Esquire article outlined an alleged plan under “serious consideration” by the Trump administration to remove the press corps from the White House and relocate the press briefing room from the West Wing to overflow space in either the Old Executive Office building or the White House Conference Center. Incoming press secretary Sean Spicer said there “‘has been no decision’” though there has been discussion about “‘how to do it’”:

The upset to the existing order caused by the presidential election has been acutely felt by no one, perhaps, so much as it has by the national press. At Donald Trump's press conference on Wednesday, reporters found themselves not only subject to a scolding ("Fake news!" "Disgraceful!") but also awakened to the strong suggestion that, at least in tactical terms, the showdown had been won by the president-elect.

The media's sense of dislocation may soon become literal.

According to three senior officials on the transition team, a plan to evict the press corps from the White House is under serious consideration by the incoming Trump Administration. If the plan goes through, one of the officials said, the media will be removed from the cozy confines of the White House press room, where it has worked for several decades. Members of the press will be relocated to the White House Conference Center—near Lafayette Square—or to a space in the Old Executive Office Building, next door to the White House.

"There has been no decision," Sean Spicer, Trump's press secretary, said about the plan today. But Spicer acknowledged that "there has been some discussion about how to do it." [Esquire, 1/14/17]

Right-Wing Media Spent Weeks After The Election Attacking The Press And Discounting Press Corps

Radio Host Rush Limbaugh: The Trump Administration “Doesn’t First Take Into Account What the Media Is Going To Say.” Rush Limbaugh defended Trump from media outrage after the president-elect ditched his press pool to have dinner at 21 Club in New York City. Limbaugh called it a “new day,” saying the Trump administration won’t take the media “into account” before making decisions. “Trump is going to be who he is.” From the November 16 edition of Premiere Radio Networks’ The Rush Limbaugh Show:

RUSH LIMBAUGH (HOST): Fox News has been reporting for the last hour and a half that Trump snuck out of the White House again, this time showed up at his transition office in Washington. They’re already ticked off that Trump went to dinner last night. You heard about this? Trump ditched the media and went to dinner. He went to 21. He had dinner with his family. Media outraged -- how dare he leave without telling us? How dare he leave without taking us?

[...]

It's a new day, folks. It's a new day where everybody in the administration doesn't first take into account what the media is going to say or do before they do or say anything. Trump is going to be who he is. He is not going to be talked out of it or influenced off of it. He is going to be who he is. He is going to continue to try to live as normal a life as he can. I've heard that he doesn't even want to spend full time in the White House. He wants to go back and forth between Trump Tower, the White House and Mar-A-Lago. Speaking of which, that could be a problem for us. They close the airport when he's here. [Premiere Radio Networks, The Rush Limbaugh Show, 11/16/16]

Fox Host Sean Hannity Asked Why Trump Has To “Waste His Time” With Mainstream Media That “We Know Don’t Like Him.” During the November 29 edition of Fox News’ Hannity, host Sean Hannity asked former White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer why Trump should have to “waste his time” with mainstream news outlets that Hannity believes were “in the tank for Hillary Clinton.” Hannity asked Fleischer why CNN deserved a spot in the White House briefing room:

SEAN HANNITY (HOST): Does Donald Trump need the same dog and phony-pony show to go on -- this cat-and-mouse game -- with a media that we know is biased, that was in the tank for Hillary Clinton. Why would CNN deserve a seat in that media room at the White House?

ARI FLEISCHER: Well, the fact of the matter is the president and his team have latitude to make any number of changes in the way the White House press operation works. There are no laws that govern it. What governs it is tradition, some sense of mutual respect -- which has really broken down -- and so he can make huge changes. I would counsel, Sean, not to go as far as you are going. I do think there's something to be gained by talking to the mainstream media and fighting with them and getting your points across. Good teams can win tough games on the road, and it's a road game when you deal with the mainstream media.

HANNITY: Is it a road game, though? But what about all these organizations -- CNN giving questions to Hillary Clinton, CNN seeking questions for the Republican nominee from the DNC. CNBC, ABC, NBC, MSNBC. Why? Why does he have to waste his time with people that we know don't like him and colluded with the other side? Why? [Fox News, Hannity, 11/29/16]

Fox Contributor Newt Gingrich: “They Should Totally Rethink From The Ground Up The Whole Concept Of The White House Press Corps.” During the November 30 edition of Fox News’ Hannity, Fox News contributor and Trump campaign surrogate Newt Gingrich said that something he and Hannity agree on “totally” is the need to “rethink from the ground up” the White House press corps. Gingrich suggested coming up with a model that does not allow “traditional media to dominate and define White House press coverage”:

SEAN HANNITY (HOST): You tell the story that when you became speaker, three days later you went to the Heritage Foundation and you said these words, “I will cooperate but I won’t compromise.” You said reasonableness will be the death of Trumpism. Explain that.

NEWT GINGRICH: Right. Well, Chuck Schumer’s going to come in and say, “Let’s be reasonable. I’ll pass a bill you like as long as it's totally acceptable to Democrats and the public employee unions and liberals, but we can be reasonable.” Well what that means is, why don't you give up everything you campaigned on, give up everything you promised the American people, and I'll be for you. And if Trump says, you know, I'm going to stick with what I believe in, what I campaigned on, what I got elected for, they will immediately scream, starting with The Washington Post and The New York Times -- they will scream, “He's being unreasonable.” And I think that's why something you and I agree on totally, they should rethink from the ground up the whole concept of the White House press corps, come up with a totally new grass-roots model, and not allow the traditional media to dominate and define White House press coverage. [Fox News, Hannity, 11/30/16]

Hannity: “Is It Time To Rethink The White House Press Office?” During the December 5 edition of Fox News’ Hannity, Hannity asked Gingrich if it is time to “rethink” the White House press corps, asking whether outlets including CNN and NBC News “deserve a seat … or is it time to just throw them all out and start over?” Hannity suggested Trump take calls during his radio show as an alternative:

SEAN HANNITY (HOST): You would think this is the biggest, I guess, presidential faux pas watching the news media this weekend because he took a congratulatory phone call from the president of Taiwan. Dick Cheney actually made a statement, he said, “You know, Trump could now transcend the media. At this point, he doesn't need these guys anymore.” Is it time to rethink the White House press office? For example, does CNN really deserve a seat after being caught colluding with the Clinton campaign? Does NBC deserve a seat in the White House press office and dealing with the press secretary when we know they have an institutional bias, or is it time to just throw them all out and start over?

[...]

NEWT GINGRICH: In terms of the White House press office, I'd like to rethink it from the ground up. It ought to be the American people's press office. We ought to use things like Facebook, like Twitter, a variety of other opportunities to let, for one thing, reporters from all over the country ask questions, to let experts ask questions and organize a whole new way of making that office serve not the elite media, not the politicians, but serve the American people.

HANNITY: When Rudy Giuliani was mayor, he used to do a radio show every week and take call from city residents. I'd offer my 550 radio stations and my show, let him take calls from people around the country, right? And if the The New York Times gets through, God bless them. [Fox News, Hannity, 12/5/16]

Hannity Asked Why Should Trump Take “Inane, Idiotic, Combative Questions” From White House Press Corps. During the December 14 edition of Premiere Radio Networks’ The Sean Hannity Show, Hannity questioned why Trump is expected to have daily White House press briefings with mainstream media, which he labeled “a bunch of propagandists,” and why the president-elect’s administration should have to “take their inane, idiotic, combative questions every day”:

SEAN HANNITY (HOST): Journalism is dead. I honestly could see Trump saying, “We don't need a White House press office anymore. Wed don’t need” -- he hasn't named a press secretary. Why? Why go out there with the dog and phony-pony show, where you have a bunch of Hillary Clinton supporters in the media, a bunch of propagandists, a bunch of people that colluded with the Clinton campaign. Why sit there every day and take their inane, idiotic, combative questions -- every day? What? And then run it on MSNBC? Why? Because they can’t get any better programming. I think you just say, “Forget it.” [Premiere Radio Networks, The Sean Hannity Show, 12/14/16]

Rush Limbaugh: A Press Briefing Without Cameras Is “Going To Be Real.” On the December 15 edition of his radio program, Rush Limbaugh supported the idea of doing away with daily press briefings, which incoming White House chief of staff Reince Priebus had floated during an interview with conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt. Limbaugh also advocated for the Trump administration to do away with cameras in the press briefing room, telling listeners that “if there are no cameras in there, then it’s going to be real” because cameras “change the way everybody behaves”:

RUSH LIMBAUGH (HOST): They will have a communications office, but whether or not there is a daily press briefing is another matter. Then another version of the story is that they’ll still have the press briefing, but it isn’t going to be on TV. There won’t be any cameras. And let me tell you something -- if there are no cameras in there, then it’s going to be real. You regular listeners know my theory about cameras: You put a camera anywhere and you forever change what otherwise would have happened. You put it on a street corner. You put a camera that people can see or that people know is there, and it’ll change the way everybody behaves, because everybody is self-conscious. Only the truly professional have an ability to scrub their self-consciousness.

[...]

Then there’s talk about canceling the press briefing on a daily basis altogether. Why do this? The Trump thinking is: “What point is served here? I send a guy out there who’s determined not to tell you what I’m doing. That’s his job -- to not tell you what I’m -- his job is to not give anything away that we’re thinking about you. His job is to make you think you’ve got access when you don’t really have it. Why do I want to engage in that phoniness? When I have something to tell the press, I’ll go talk to them, which is going to be very rare. When I have something that I want to tell the American people, which is going to be a lot, I’ll find a way to get to them. [Premiere Radio Networks, The Rush Limbaugh Show, 12/15/16]

Fox’s MediaBuzz: Getting Rid Of Daily Press Briefings “May Lead To Better Journalism.” During a December 18 segment on Fox News’ MediaBuzz, former CNN correspondent Erin McPike floated limiting press briefings to “when there’s a big news event,” and suggested that this may actually encourage “better journalism” because reporters would get to ask questions “individually.” Mollie Hemingway, senior editor at The Federalist, a right-wing blog, claimed the daily press briefings “aren’t doing a great job” and there is an opportunity with the incoming Trump administration to “shake things up”:

HOWARD KURTZ (HOST): Erin McPike, are daily briefings at the White House are important, not just for the press corps, but for the public to get questions answered?

ERIN MCPIKE: They might be, but look, White House reporters can go ask questions any time of the day that they are at the White House. They can walk behind the podium and go into the White House communications office and ask questions directly. It may lead to better journalism if reporters go ask questions individually, so they don’t tip off what they’re writing about to other reporters --

KURTZ: Well nobody talks about an exclusive story in the briefing room, but you say they can just walk in -- I mean, it is hard, especially if you’re not from one of the big newspapers or networks, to get access, even to the top press staff. Certainly to the policy makers in the White House. The press briefing on camera, isn't that a way of holding an administration accountable?

MCPIKE: It is. But why not have a briefing just when there's a big news event that everyone wants to go ask questions of? I do think this could turn away from pack mentality journalism. I’m not saying that they should get rid of the daily press briefing, but thinking about why we have them and why they could do it in a different way is worthwhile.

KURTZ: You'd better go check your Twitter feed. Mollie.

MOLLIE HEMINGWAY: Well again, when the Trump people started saying this, you've got a lot of reflexive hostility to the idea. But I agree, I think there is an opportunity to shake things up. What reporters need to focus on is making sure there's a lot of transparency, and flexibility, getting the information they need. I don't see these daily press briefings doing a great job with that. Now I don't know exactly how to change it because it's very important to get it during this administration, but a lot of what happens on these televised briefings is that you have reporters sort of posturing, trying to look good as they ask a question. They don't do a good job tag-teaming to get an answer out of anything, and so I would like for everybody to just kind of rethink it and see how it can work out best for both parties. [Fox News, MediaBuzz, 12/18/16]

National Review’s Rich Lowry: Key Value Of White House’s Regular Press Briefing Is “Providing Cable Fodder For Us To All Argue About.” On the December 19 edition of Fox News’ Happening Now, National Review editor Rich Lowry told host Jon Scott that the White House daily press briefing may be worth keeping because it’s “a custom” but that the briefing is really only “ useful [at] providing cable fodder for us to all argue about”:

RICH LOWRY: The press briefing, you know, it's a custom, so maybe it's worth keeping just on those grounds. But I think it's not really useful in terms of getting information out there. It's very useful providing cable fodder for us to all argue about, but usually the press secretary is just kind of spinning and evading as much as he can. And what we'll see in general whether they keep the briefing or not. Trump more than any other president is going to try to go above and around the press and has the social media and communications skill to have more success at that, I think, than any president has had before. [Fox News, Happening Now, 12/19/16]

Trump’s Transition Team Has Encouraged Hostility Toward The Press Since Election

Trump Again Bashed New York Times, Media In General On Twitter Over Transition Reporting. Trump continued his crusade against the “failing” New York Times on November 16 with a series of tweets that claimed that the paper was “so totally wrong” in its reporting on his transition and arguing that the Times was “just upset that they looked like fools in their coverage of me.”

[Twitter, 11/16/16, 11/16/16, 11/16/16, 11/16/16]

Trump Blamed Media For Making Minority Groups Fear His Presidency. According to a November 22 article in The New York Times, Trump was asked during an interview with CBS’ 60 Minutes “why African-Americans, immigrants and Muslims have expressed fear of his presidency.” Trump responded by saying, “I think it’s built up by the press.” [The New York Times, 11/22/16]

Trump Retweeted Attacks On CNN And Correspondent Jeff Zeleny For Refuting Trump’s Unsubstantiated Claims Of Voter Fraud. As noted by Politico on November 28, Trump “lashed out on Twitter … over a CNN report refuting his unsubstantiated claims of mass voter fraud on Election Day.” Trump quoted other tweets directed at CNN senior Washington correspondent Jeff Zeleny, including one from “a 16-year-old Twitter user who cast Zeleny as a ‘bad reporter,.’” Politico reported. [Politico, 11/28/16]

Trump Began His Post-Election “Thank You Tour” By Attacking “The Extremely Dishonest Press.” During remarks delivered at a December 1 rally, Trump complained that pollsters had wrongly predicted the outcomes in several swing states and claimed these predictions as proof that news media were “extremely dishonest.” Trump labeled the press as “Very dishonest people” while bemoaning the honesty of a news anchor who admitted his election victory had brought her to tears. Ironically, Trump concluded his tirade against “the dishonest press” by falsely claiming that he “won in a landslide.” [Media Matters, 12/1/16]

Trump Claimed Press Wouldn’t Cover Him “Accurately & Honorably.” In a December 5 tweet, Trump complained that he is forced to air his grievances on twitter because the press refuses to cover him “accurately & honorably.”

[Twitter, 12/5/16]

Trump Defended Using Social Media To Bypass Press “Because So Many Reporters Are Dishonest.” During an interview with NBC’s Matt Lauer, Donald Trump defended his aggressive use of social media to bypass media, claiming social media allowed him to “get [his message] out “much more honestly than dealing with dishonest reporters.” From Trump’s December 7 Today phone interview:

MATT LAUER (HOST): Speaking of things that are appropriate, shortly after winning the election, you gave an interview and you talked about your use of Twitter. And you said that you were going to be much more restrained as the president, because you seemed to understand that perhaps having fights on Twitter would not be appropriate for the president. And I have not seen you backing off fights on Twitter. In the time since you were elected, you’ve targeted the cast of Hamilton, The New York Times, China, Boeing, the media, and SNL. Is this proving to be a habit that you're finding a difficult time breaking?

DONALD TRUMP: No, I think I am very restrained, and I talk about important things. I talk about, as you know, recently, China, and the fact we talked about their devaluation, we talked about they’re building this massive military fortress in the middle of the South China Sea, which they're not supposed to be doing, and other things. And frankly, it's a modern day form of communication --

LAUER: Even when you're picking fights with it.

TRUMP: Between Facebook and Twitter, I have I guess more than 40 million people. And that's a modern day form of communication. I get it out much faster than a press release. I get it out much more honestly than dealing with dishonest reporters, because so many reporters are dishonest. [NBC, Today12/7/16]

Trump Refused To Answer Legitimate Question From CNN During Press Conference, Labeling The Network “Fake News.” During Trump’s January 11 press conference in New York City, the president-elect got into a heated confrontation with CNN correspondent Jim Acosta after Trump attacked the network for its report that top U.S. intelligence officials believe Russian operatives may have compromising information about him. Acosta pleaded with the president-elect to ask a question “since you’re attacking our news organization,” but Trump repeatedly refused him, ultimately claiming that CNN was “fake news.” Trump’s refusal to accept difficult questions from mainstream journalists in favor of engaging blatantly pro-Trump outlets, along with his tendency during the campaign to blacklist outlets that wrote critically of him, spurred Media Matters to launch a petition in concert with MoveOn.org calling on journalists to stand up for one another when the incoming administration flouts the First Amendment. [Media Matters, 1/11/17; MoveOn.org, accessed 1/17/17]

Incoming Press Secretary Sean Spicer Threatened To Throw Acosta Out Of The Press Conference. Acosta reported on CNN that, after he confronted Trump, incoming White House press secretary Sean Spicer threatened to throw him out of the press conference if he tried again to ask any more questions of the president-elect. Spicer admitted as much on the January 11 edition of Fox News’ Tucker Carlson Tonight, stating that “in the future, I would have [Acosta] removed” for treating Trump “disrespectfully.” [CNN, Inside Politics, 1/11/17; Fox News, Tucker Carlson Tonight, 1/11/17]

Meanwhile, Trump Team Is Building Up Alternative Pro-Trump Media Outlets

Trump Is Turning A Motley Of Supermarket Tabloids And Internet Conspiracy Theorists Into White House Press Players. The incoming Trump administration is cultivating several fringe right-wing media outlets to become major players in a restricted press environment. These include the New York Observer, a paper owned until recently by Trump’s son-in-law, and the National Enquirer, a supermarket tabloid owned by a close friend of the president-elect. Trump’s campaign and transition team also paid special attention to Right Side Broadcasting Network (RSBN), a fledgling conservative outlet, and have relied heavily on the support of Breitbart News, a right-wing website dedicated to the “alt-right” and populated by overtly sexist, racist, and Islamophobic rhetoric. Trump is a long-time fan of right-wing conspiracy theorist Alex Jones and his fringe outlet InfoWars, which helped organize pro-Trump events during the campaign and regularly featured interviews with Trump and his adviser Roger Stone. [Media Matters, 1/2/17]

Trump Called On The Right-Wing One America News During His First Press Conference As President-Elect. One of the questions Trump took during his January 11 press conference was from a reporter at One America News Network (OANN), which was launched by the conservative Washington Times and San Diego-based Herring Broadcasting in July 2013 to cater to viewers “with self-described independent, conservative & libertarian values.” Trump granted OANN at least one interview during the Republican primary race. OANN attacked Alicia Machado after she began publicly criticizing Trump during the presidential campaign and deflected attention from Trump’s admission of sexual assault in the leaked Access Hollywood tape. On January 12, OANN hired former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski as a political commentator. Lewandowski worked as a paid CNN contributor until shortly after the 2016 election. [Media Matters, 7/28/14; YouTube, 4/3/16, 9/30/16, 10/13/16; The Daily Beast, 1/12/17]

“Trump-Built” Right Side Broadcasting Network Teamed Up With Trump Campaign During Election; Claimed It Will Soon Participate In Trump’s White House Press Briefings. Right Side Broadcasting Network (RSBN) is a relatively new “news” network that announced on December 6 that it would “become a 24-hour network very soon” and it would be “in the White House” and “at the press briefings” during the Trump presidency. Right Side Broadcasting CEO Joe Seales hosted an “ask me anything” session on Reddit in which he told pro-Trump redditors that “Trump built RSBN.” The Washington Post’s Callum Borchers has described Right Side Broadcasting as “the unofficial version of Trump TV since last summer,” noting that the Trump campaign had “teamed up with Right Side to produce pre- and post-debate analysis shows that streamed on Trump’s Facebook Page.” [Media Matters, 12/6/16, 1/2/17]

Trump Campaign Made A Deal With Sinclair Broadcasting To Guarantee “Straighter Coverage.” According to a December 16 report from Politico, the Trump campaign made a deal during the election with telecommunications company Sinclair Broadcast Group to “broadcast their Trump interviews across the country without commentary.” Politico said Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner confirmed that the deal was struck “to try and secure better media coverage” in exchange for giving Sinclair “more access to Trump and the campaign.” [Media Matters, 12/16/16]

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