The National Press Club has condemned Donald Trump’s exclusion of select media outlets from a White House press conference, calling the unprecedented action “deeply disturbing” and likening it to censorship.
Senior figures from the world's leading professional organisation for journalists joined a host of other industry leaders in protesting the decision announced by White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer to block news outlets including CNN, The New York Times, BBC, The Guardian and BuzzFeed from the off-camera “gaggle”.
“I find it deeply disturbing and completely unacceptable that the White House is actively running a campaign against a constitutionally enshrined free and independent press,” the club's president, Jeffrey Ballou, said in a statement.
“The action harkens back to the darkest chapters of US history and reeks of undemocratic, un-American and unconstitutional censorship. The National Press Club supports our colleagues in the White House Correspondents Association in its protest and calls on the White House to reverse course.” Mr Spicer did not give any justification as to why the news outlets had been excluded, however far-right organisations Breitbart News, One America News Network and The Washington Times were all granted access.
Other major outlets approved included ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox News, Reuters and Bloomberg, with Associated Press and Time both boycotting the gaggle after the exclusions emerged.
It came just two months after the press secretary promised the Trump administration would never ban press access regardless of the political leaning of the publication.
“We have a respect for the press when it comes to the government, that that is something you can’t ban an entity from,” he said. “You know conservative, liberal, otherwise I think that is what makes a democracy a democracy versus a dictatorship.”
National Press Club Journalism Institute President, Barbara Cochran, also accused Mr Trump of hypocrisy for claiming he loves the First Amendment, which defends the freedom of the press.
“The president said, ‘No one loves’ the First Amendment ‘more than me.’ We call on the president and his staff to prove that and stop interfering with the ability of all news organisations to do their job of covering the White House,” she wrote.
The New York Times and Buzzfeed both issued written statements protesting their exclusion from the briefing.
Fox News anchor Bret Baier discouraged conservative news outlets who celebrated the gaggle, citing organisations who defended his network when former President Obama tried to freeze out Fox News in 2009.
“Some at CNN and New York Times stood with Fox News when the Obama admin attacked us and tried to exclude us,” he wrote on Twitter, “a White House gaggle should be open to all credentialed orgs.”
It came as the US President renewed his attack on the “mainstream media” at the Conservative Political Action Conference.
“I want you all to know that we are fighting the fake news. It’s phony, fake,” he said. “I called the fake news the enemy of the people. They are the enemy of the people, because they have no sources. They just make them up when there are none.”
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