Since Friday afternoon, there has been a major furor in the national media about certain members of the press being "shut out" or "excluded" from an off-camera briefing by White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer.
It is widely agreed that Spicer may have shown bad timing in choosing to invite some reporters rather than all to a non-televised briefing Friday that was originally intended for the pool — or those who cover the President regularly.
But to some, veterans of the presidential beat as well as at least one former White House Press Secretary, talk of "shut out" or "exclusion" is much ado about nothing.
"White House Slams Door on Several Reporters," blared the headline on the Washington Post Saturday morning.
The Post reported that Spicer "banned reporters from CNN, the New York Times, Politico, the Los Angeles Times, and Buzzfeed from attending a gaggle, a non-televised briefing, but gave access to a number of other reporters, including those representing conservative outlets."
"The action harkens back to the darkest chapters of U.S. history and reeks of undemocratic, un-American, and unconstitutional censorship," declared National Press Club President Jeffrey Ballou.
"Over-reacting," is how Ari Fleischer, press secretary to President George W. Bush, characterized such responses to Spicer's decision to invite some but not all reporters to the off-camera briefing.
In an interview with Newsmax Friday night, Fleischer recalled how he held such gaggles with reporters in the morning along with the televised briefing in the afternoon.
"The gaggle was with all media, no picking or choosing," Fleischer told us, typically 40 or so reporters jammed into my office."
He said he thought "the White House created confusion by trying to gaggle with the pool. They should have gaggled with all media, or just the pool if they wanted to." Fleischer added that while in the White House, he never gaggled with the pool but did so aboard Air Force One (as Spicer has done on President Trump's flights to other cities).
In a separate interview with CNN, Fleischer criticized the national media for what he felt is its "tendency to think about themselves, to hyperventilate [that] the First Amendment is under threat because of the things [Trump] says. But then they ignore all the things he does that are tremendous for the media. He is making journalism interesting and great again."
Some colleagues of mine also felt that Spicer's first-time use of a gaggle while at the White House might be a signal that the off-camera briefing might be returning along with the daily televised briefing.
Fleischer's gaggles were continued by his successors, Scott McClellan and the late Tony Snow, but ended by Bush's final press secretary Dana Perino. None of Barack Obama's three top spokesmen tried to revive the off-camera briefing.
"Sean might be headed in the right direction by starting to hold gaggles," said a veteran White House correspondent who requested anonymity, "but he just shouldn't pick and choose for a garden variety gaggle."
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