WHITE HOUSE - The White House came under sharp criticism Friday after blocking a number of news outlets from a daily question-and-answer session with press secretary Sean Spicer.
Several news groups that have been critical of President Donald Trump, including CNN and The New York Times, were among those excluded from the briefing.
Some outlets seen as more sympathetic to Trump, including Breitbart News, the One America News Network, and The Washington Times, were allowed in.
Other mainstream outlets were allowed to participate, including the ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox broadcast networks. Some news organizations, including The Associated Press, refused to participate in solidarity with those excluded.
A VOA correspondent at the White House on Friday had not been invited to the briefing and did not attend the meeting with Spicer.
Reporters' group dismayed
The off-camera briefing was held in Spicer's office and replaced the daily on-camera press briefing, which all credentialed news outlets are allowed to attend.
The White House Correspondents' Association, an organization of journalists who cover the president, sharply rebuked the White House for Friday's move.
"The WHCA board is protesting strongly against how today's gaggle [a reporter's term for such a briefing] is being handled by the White House," said Jeff Mason, WHCA president. "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."
Press office response
Spicer's deputy, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, said the briefing Friday was organized according to standard White House practice.
"We were trying to do an informal gaggle," she told VOA by telephone. "We had the pool [reporters] come in so that everyone would be represented and get the information. And we had a little extra room [in Spicer's office], so a few others were invited."
Asked to clarify on what basis other news organizations were invited to attend the briefing, Sanders said: "Based on the people that we said can come in. And they were here. So it wasn't like they were called to come."
However, there was quick criticism from news organizations.
Times, AP critical
New York Times executive editor Dean Baquet said: "Nothing like this has ever happened at the White House in our long history of covering multiple administrations of different parties."
In a statement, The Associated Press' director of media relations said: "The AP believes the public should have as much access to the president as possible."
The Trump administration already had been criticized for attempting to sideline certain media outlets it sees as unfriendly.
In a tweet last week, Trump included The New York Times, NBC, ABC, CBS, and CNN in a list of news media that he described as purveyors of "fake news" and "enemies of the American people."
A number of current and former White House reporters weighed in on Twitter:
The WHCA board is protesting strongly against how today%27s gaggle is being handled by the White House. We ... https://t.co/e6JkOOlwzQ— WHCA (@whca) February 24, 2017
Yeah the Obama WH used to selectively invite reporters to gaggles, too. It was wrong then, wrong now— Julie Mason (@juliemason) February 24, 2017
I cannot recall anything like this ever happening in my years of covering the White House. https://t.co/Vz6InkeDsW— Athena Jones (@AthenaCNN) February 24, 2017