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What Trump targeting the media means for press access

February 24, 2017 at 6:50 PM EDT
President Trump touted his agenda at the annual CPAC, trumpeting his theme of "America first." He also lambasted the "fake media” after CNN reported that the White House asked the FBI to refute claims of connection between Trump associates and Russia. John Yang reports and Judy Woodruff talks to Sally Buzbee of the Associated Press about the White House denying briefing access to some outlets.
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JUDY WOODRUFF: The spotlight was on President Trump today, as he took the stage at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference outside Washington. He touted his agenda and called some news outlets the enemy of the people. That’s before a crowd of activists who have at times viewed him with a skeptical eye.

John Yang reports from the conference.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Our victory was a victory and a win for conservative values.

JOHN YANG: President Trump moved today to put his brand on the conservative movement, stressing his populist, nationalist vision of America first.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: There is no such thing as a global anthem, a global currency, or a global flag. This is the United States of America that I’m representing. I’m not representing the globe. I’m representing your country.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

JOHN YANG: Speaking at the Conservative Political Action Conference, or CPAC, in a packed hotel ballroom, the president said he is transforming the Republican Party.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: The GOP will be, from now on, the party also of the American worker. If you look at how much bigger our party has gotten during this cycle, millions and millions of people were joining. Now, I won’t say it was because of me, but it was, OK?

(LAUGHTER)

JOHN YANG: Mr. Trump told the enthusiastic crowd he would soon sign a new temporary travel ban, a signature campaign pledge, replacing the executive order the federal courts put on hold.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: And in a matter of days, we will be taking brand-new action to protect our people and keep America safe. You will see the action.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: I will never, ever apologize for protecting the safety and security of the American people. I won’t do it.

JOHN YANG: While some conference attendees said they have reservations about another key Trump policy position, opposition to multinational trade deals, it doesn’t dampen their enthusiasm for the president.

ALEX GERSHUNY, CPAC Attendee: Everything he said, I agree with, with the exception of maybe some of the trade stuff. So, you know, I can’t get 100 percent from him, can’t get 100 percent from anyone, but, overall, I was very pleased.

JOHN YANG: Others said Mr. Trump’s election is redefining the Republican Party.

THOMAS MELVIN, CPAC Attendee: I think there’s a lot of people that have the conservative values. I mean, they just haven’t come out of the closet. You know, they were kind of keeping low before, but there’s a lot of people I have talked to that said they have come out since Trump won.

JOHN YANG: The president also devoted much of today’s speech to a favorite topic: lambasting what he calls the fake media.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: I’m against the people that make up stories and make up sources. They shouldn’t be allowed to use sources unless they use somebody’s name.

JOHN YANG: His latest target? A CNN report that FBI officials refused the White House’s request to knock down reports of alleged conversations between Trump associates and Russian intelligence officials during the 2016 campaign.

Before this morning’s speech, the president tweeted: “The FBI is totally unable to stop the national security leakers that have permeated our government. Classified information is being given to media that could have a devastating effect on U.S.”

This afternoon, the Trump administration’s relationship with the White House press corps hit another stumbling block. Several news outlets, including The New York Times, CNN, and The Los Angeles Times, were excluded from an informal, off-camera briefing with Press Secretary Sean Spicer. Conservative news organizations were allowed in.

White House officials offered no immediate explanation.

For the PBS NewsHour, I’m John Yang at CPAC in Oxon Hill, Maryland.

JUDY WOODRUFF: There’s been much reaction late today to the decision by the White House to ban some news media outlets from the briefing in the press secretary’s office. It’s often called a gaggle.

Two prominent organizations, the Associated Press and TIME magazine, chose to boycott attending in solidarity with those news organizations.

Sally Buzbee is the executive editor and senior vice president of the AP. And she joins me now.

Sally, thank you for being here.

Why did the AP not attend that briefing? You were not shut out.

SALLY BUZBEE, Executive Editor, Associated Press: We think that the public deserves as much access to the president and other governing officials as possible.

When we find ourselves in a situation where national news organizations seem to be being deliberately excluded, we think that’s dangerous territory.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Is this White House — are these behaviors, rules different from previous White House rules?

SALLY BUZBEE: There is always physical limitations on access. There is always compromises that we make and sort of concessions that are made for physical limitations and other things.

I think, when you get to the point where there are news organization that seem to be being deliberately excluded, I think that’s different. We felt today was different.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, that hasn’t happened before, to your knowledge?

SALLY BUZBEE: I can’t speak for all of history.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Right.

SALLY BUZBEE: I think, in the access fight that we have been engaged in for many decades, this felt very different to us today.

JUDY WOODRUFF: What is the problem?

For those — for people who don’t know the news media, what’s the problem for the press if the White House says, well, we’re going to talk the some news organizations, but not to others?

SALLY BUZBEE: Obviously, the White House has the right to do what it wants, and there are situations where there might be individual types of reporters that it makes more sense to talk to, if it’s economic news or something like this.

But this was a general briefing, where they are talking about issues that cover a wide range of topics. And I think the thing that the public should think about is, if there start to be exclusions and favorites picked and things like that, essentially all access in the end is probably going to suffer.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Sally Buzbee, I want to ask you about something else, something the president said in his speech today at that conservative conference.

He said — he talked about — he was critical of the news media. He said some reporters make up news and they make up sources. And he went on to say that reporters shouldn’t use sources unless they name those sources.

And I want to ask you about that in context, say, for example, with a story that ran late today by the AP having to do with an internal report done by the Department of Homeland Security, saying that there was insufficient evidence to show that citizens from the seven countries, Muslim majority countries, named in the president’s travel ban pose a terror threat to the U.S.

Now, your organization ran that story late today. There were no named sources. So, is this a story you stand by? And how do you explain this to people?

SALLY BUZBEE: oh, absolutely, we stand by that story. We think it’s an important story.

Reporters attempt at all times to get people to talk to them with their names attached, because that obviously is the gold standard. If there is information that you cannot get any other way, and you know that it’s factual information, not spin, but someone is in a position to know what they’re talking about, we think that information is critically important, and the public needs to know about it.

It’s actually very difficult to get the government to tell you what they’re doing. We fight for information and for facts every day. We have for decades. It’s really a struggle to get information, factual information about what the government is doing.

But we view it really as our mission to find out what the government is doing, the actions, the thoughts that they’re having, the decisions they’re mulling, and express that to the public.

And that’s why we use anonymous sources whenever we have to. We don’t like it, but sometimes it’s the only way to get facts to the public.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Does the AP have a plan for what to do if President Trump continues to be as tough on the news media as he is right now, talking about fake news, saying that reporters are making up stories and making up sources?

SALLY BUZBEE: I think we think that a fight between the government and any government official and the media is unfortunate, because we think that people should be focused on the actual factual things that are going on.

I will say that we are going to do what we always do, which is, we are going to fight like mad to find out what’s going on in terms of facts, and we are going to report that to the public. And we are going to do that every single day. And we are not going to stop. That’s our plan.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Sally Buzbee, executive editor of the Associated Press, thank you very much.

SALLY BUZBEE: Thank you.

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