Less than a week after President Donald Trump publicly attacked journalists for using anonymous sources in stories about his administration, it appears the president become one himself on Tuesday - at least briefly.
Three television anchors, shortly after attending from a White House lunch meeting with the president, emerged to report news on the president's belief that the time may be right for immigration reform. Fox News Channel's Bret Baier, and CNN's Wolf Blitzer and Jake Tapper, attributed the news to a “senior administration official.” ABC's George Stephanopoulos, in a tweet, sourced it to a “WH official.”
After being asked about the apparent contradiction, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said in an email that “the president's comments on that subject are on the record.”
And minutes after that, ABC's David Muir, who was also in the meeting, posted a story on the network's website quoting Trump by name saying the president had told news anchors and correspondents at the White House lunch that “the time is right for an immigration bill, as long as there is compromise on both sides.”
The episode illustrated the administration's difficulties in squaring a longtime practice of anonymous sourcing in Washington politics and journalism with the president's anger at stories that displeased him. Trump has decried “fake news” and called journalists “enemies of the people.” Friday, in a speech before a conference of conservatives, he said that reporters “shouldn't be allowed to use sources unless they use somebody's name. Let their name be put out there.”
It's not unusual for presidents to invite journalists for private meetings like Tuesday's lunch before a major speech, like Trump's before Congress on Tuesday. In the past, they have been considered off the record - meaning nothing said at the meeting could be reported publicly.
Before Trump publicly became the source of the immigration news, a White House official acknowledged to The Associated Press that it came from the meeting with news anchors. The AP was not included in the meeting.
Fox News' Chris Wallace, who was also in the meeting, reported on Shepard Smith's afternoon show that he saw a “kinder, gentler Donald Trump” during the lunch.
“It was in this context that a senior administration official said that the president thinks that the time was right for immigration reform,” Wallace said. “That came as kind of a surprise.”
After some more discussion of nuggets from the “senior administration official,” Smith couldn't take it anymore.
“So they give us anonymous sources after they rail at us for using anonymous sources?” he said. “That is hilarious.”
Replied Wallace: “Don't shoot the messenger, Shep.”
Smith said that Trump “wants people to think there's a major war against people who report facts that he doesn't like. But when you're in the room with him, it's all good. When you're on TV, he vilifies you and treats you as if you're doing something wrong when you're actually doing everything right. That's annoying.”
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