“It feels like we’re slowly but surely being dragged into what is a new normal in this country, where the president of the United States is allowed to insulate himself from answering hard questions,” Acosta said on CNN. “I don’t know why we covered that gaggle today, quite honestly Brooke, if they can’t give us the answers to the questions on camera or where we can record the audio. They’re basically pointless at this point.”
Asked for further comment, Acosta said in an email, “Unless we all take collective action, the stonewalling will continue.”
“If the WH is going to place unreasonable demands on our newsgathering, we should walk out,” he said.
What’s not clear is how much the White House would care if this happened. Reporters’ demands for access have not been a top priority for this administration, and though Trump is an avid media consumer and did a large number of interviews as a candidate and earlier in his term, he has begun to hold the press at arm’s length, skipping the White House Correspondents’ Dinner and doing fewer interviews lately.
Monday also marked the latest round of stories about the likelihood that Spicer will move into a different role, a rumor that has made the rounds in the media in different iterations several times now. The departure of Communications Director Michael Dubke earlier this month has created a hole at the top of the communications structure, and stories in Bloomberg and Politico on Monday said that Spicer is looking for a replacement to handle the briefings, such as they are, while he moves up to a higher position.
Neither Spicer nor deputy press secretary Sarah Sanders responded to queries about the changes to the briefings. Asked why the briefings are now routinely held off-camera, White House chief strategist Steve Bannon said in a text message “Sean got fatter,” and did not respond to a follow-up.
The White House Correspondents Association has been critical of this administration’s stance towards press access. WHCA president Jeff Mason said the body would “object” to any move to cancel briefings back when Trump tweeted that he was considering it. In an email, Mason said this is something the WHCA “had been working on” but that he is out of the country and didn’t have an on the record statement right now.
But the current scenario, with the briefings being increasingly diminished without being entirely eliminated, makes it murkier for journalists to figure out the correct response. If there’s one thing the national political press corps doesn’t excel at, it’s the kind of solidarity for which Acosta is calling. News organizations didn’t organize a collective boycott of Trump events when the campaign was maintaining a blacklist of banned outlets during the campaign, and seem unlikely to be able to pull one off now.
Spicer was asked during Monday’s gaggle, which lasted 33 minutes according to NPR’s White House correspondent, why the gaggle was not being made available or broadcast and audio.