I think Spicer is doubling down on his own version of the truth, which is that when he saw the leak, Priebus rang McCabe, who responded off-record that the story was bullshit, but refused to repeat this publicly. I still think that McCabe is the ultimate source of these latest smears (eg he authorized a couple of underlings to do it) – RB
Spicer selectively blocks media outlets from briefing
Hadas Gold, Politico, Feb 24 2017
The White House on Friday blocked a number of media outlets including CNN and Politico, from an off-camera gaggle with Sean Spicer, while allowing in a select group of journalists that included many conservative outlets. Spicer had earlier planned on having an on-camera gaggle in the briefing room, but he later to a restricted off-camera gaggle in his office. Instead of hosting the typical briefing on-camera in the briefing room, which in the first month has been regularly broadcast live on the major cable networks, the White House invited the pool, which on Friday consisted of Hearst Newspapers and CBS, into Spicer’s office, along with a select group of other outlets. Because of the presence of the pool, the information was still shared with the entire White House press corps. In addition to CBS and Hearst, the White House invited NBC, Fox, ABC, One Pindostan News Network, the WSJ, McClatchy, Breitbart and Washington Times reporters to attend. Reporters from outlets including the BBC, CNN, NYT, LA Times and Politico were not permitted. In the past, White House press secretaries would sometimes host small gaggles with “expanded pools,” but the selective invitation of conservative outlets is unprecedented. White House Correspondents’ Association President Jeff Mason condemned the White House’s actions in a statement, writing:
The WHCA board is protesting strongly against how today’s gaggle is being handled by the White House. We encourage the organizations that were allowed in to share the material with others in the press corps who were not. The board will be discussing this further with White House staff.
Spicer’s deputy Sarah Sanders downplayed the controversy, saying:
We invited the pool so everyone was represented. We decided to add a couple of additional people beyond the pool. Nothing more than that.
Reporters from AP and Time Magazine were invited to attend, but out of solidarity chose not to do so. That move garnered praise online and via the internal White House pool email list. NYT White House correspondent Peter Baker wrote to the White House press corps email list:
Congratulations to Time and AP for not attending today’s gaggle in protest.
Press pundits responded to the White House’s move with varying levels of outrage on Friday afternoon. The Committee to Protect Journalists and the National Press Club both condemned it, as did the WSJ and McClatchy, which both indicated that they did not initially realize Spicer was barring other outlets from the briefing. They pledged to boycott similar arrangements in the future. The WSJ wrote:
The WSJ strongly objects to the White House’s decision to bar certain media outlets from today’s gaggle Had we known at the time, we would not have participated, and we will not participate in such closed briefings in the future.
McClatchy Washington’s executive editor Kristin Roberts said:
McClatchy opposes any effort by the White House to ban news organizations from coverage. Had we known that news organizations were banned from today’s gaggle, we would not have participated. We will not participate again if that practice continues.
Editors from publications whose reporters did not attend the briefing objected to the arrangement, sometimes with strong words. Dean Baquet, editor of the NYT, characterized the administration’s move as unprecedented. He said in a statement:
Nothing like this has ever happened at the White House in our long history of covering multiple administrations of different parties. We strongly protest the exclusion of the NYT and the other news organizations. Free media access to a transparent government is obviously of crucial national interest.
WaPo editor Marty Baron described the White House’s decision to close off the briefing from some outlets as “appalling” and accused the administration of traveling down “an undemocratic path.” He said:
We are currently evaluating what our response will be if this sort of thing happens again.
Politico editors Carrie Budoff Brown and John Harris told staffers in a memo that they had reached out to the White House about the incident. They added that the publication plans to “very vigorously assert and defend an independent media’s right to cover the institution of the Presidency.” They said:
Selectively excluding news organizations from White House briefings is misguided and our expectation is that this action will not be repeated.
Ben Smith, editor-in-chief of BuzzFeed, the outlet Trump previously ripped as a “failing pile of garbage,” also said the White House’s actions would not deter their reporting. CNN and AP also both registered their objections. Fox News anchor Bret Baier said on Twitter that White House gaggles “should be open to all credentialed” organizations, and referenced a time when CNN and the NYT stood with Fox News when the Obama administration tried to exclude them. In audio of the gaggle shared with the entire White House press corps by the radio pooler, Spicer denied that CNN and the NYT had been denied access to the briefing because the White House is unhappy with their coverage, saying:
The president spoke today. As you know, we don’t generally do, we haven’t done briefings when the president’s had a major event or an event with a world leader. We put it on the schedule yesterday that we were just going to gaggle, and I mean this is something that we talked about with the correspondents’ association, about making sure that we have daily contact with you guys. You know, obviously the president gave a very powerful speech today and our job is to make sure that we’re responsive to folks in the media. We’re here all day. We’ve got a big staff and we want to make sure we answer your questions. We don’t need to do everything on camera every day.
Earlier on Friday, senior administration officials pushed back against a report by CNN that Priebus asked the FBI to deny a NYT report about campaign contacts with Russia, but the FBI declined. However, the officials confirmed that Priebus had indeed asked an FBI official about publicizing the agency’s view on the NYT report. In the morning background briefing, an official laid out a timeline of the communication between Priebus and the FBI, but the account from the White House has changed over the past 24 hours. On the record, Spicer rebuked reporters, saying it would have been “insane” for Priebus not to attempt to persuade the FBI to denounce a story that (he said) FBI Assistant Director Andrew McCabe had described as bullshit (see my remark at intro – RB):
What you guys have done is indefensible and inaccurate! What sane person would not want to set the record straight?