Donald Trump

Trump escalates war with mainstream US media as he rails against fake news, bars select outlets

Trump’s attacks on the media are popular with his core supporters

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 25 February, 2017, 4:48am
UPDATED : Saturday, 25 February, 2017, 8:14pm

US President Donald Trump has launched full-throated attack on journalism, saying some reporters make up unnamed sources for “fake news” and again described them as “the enemy” of the American people.

It came as the White House barred several major news organisations from participating in an informal off-camera press briefing Friday, underscoring heightened tensions between Trump’s administration and the media.

Unleashing a line of attack that energised an enthusiastic crowd at the nation’s largest gathering of conservative activists, Trump said that unethical reporters “make up stories and make up sources.”

“A few days ago I called the fake news the enemy of the people, and they are — they are the enemy of the people,” Trump told the annual Conservative Political Action Conference.

While praising some reporters as honest, and pledging fealty to the First Amendment, Trump claimed that “the fake news media doesn’t tell the truth.”

He said reporters should not be allowed to use anonymous sources, and “we’re going to do something about it.”

Trump did not elaborate on what that “something” might be, beyond general criticism. But his broadsides represented an escalation of his running battle against the press, which he has taken to calling “the opposition party.”

It was the latest in a series of attacks that, critics said, are designed to undermine coverage of Trump’s troubles in office, including investigations into possible links between his campaign associates and Russians during last year’s presidential election.

Later Friday, after Trump’s speech, several news organisations including The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, CNN and Politico were blocked from joining a White House “media gaggle”, raising accusations of favouritism.

The “gaggle” with Sean Spicer, the White House press secretary, took place in lieu of his daily briefing and was originally scheduled as an on-camera event.

Conservative publications such as Breitbart News, the One America News Network and the Washington Times were allowed into the meeting, as well as TV networks CBS, NBC, Fox and ABC. The Associated Press and Time were invited but boycotted the briefing.

The White House Correspondents Association said it was “protesting strongly” against the White House decision.

“The board will be discussing this further with White House staff,” said president Jeff Mason.

The executive editor of The New York Times, Dean Baquet, said “nothing like this has ever happened at the White House in our long history of covering multiple administrations of different parties”.

During the off-camera briefing Spicer defended its stance, saying the White House has shown an “abundance of accessibility.”

“We’ve actually gone above and beyond, with making ourselves, our team and our briefing room more accessible than probably any previous administration.”

As for Trump’s criticism of anonymous sources, Gregg Leslie, legal defence director for the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, said such arrangements are “essential to good reporting” in many cases.

“There are just some things that people will come forward about anonymously that they cannot discuss openly,” Leslie said, citing potential threats to jobs and even personal safety.

Members of his White House team regularly demand anonymity when talking to reporters. That was the case Friday morning when Trump officials briefed reporters on chief of staff Reince Priebus’ contact with top FBI officials concerning the Russia reports.

Long ago, Trump himself played fast and loose with sourcing. In the 1990s, when his personal life was tabloid fodder, a “spokesman” who identified himself as John Miller, would call to offer details about the businessman’s failing marriage and the girlfriends he was juggling. But The Washington Post reported it was actually Trump, posing as his own publicist. In later years Trump denied it, but he had owned up to it at the time, describing the Miller calls as a “joke gone awry,” according to the Post.

Associated Press, Tribune News Service, Agence France-Presse, The Guardian