White House press secretary Sean Spicer once said that banning media outlets is a hallmark of a dictatorship. On Friday, he leveled an outlet ban of sorts — for a single press briefing.
Friday afternoon, following Trump’s rambling critique of the media in a speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference, Spicer shut several major media outlets out of the daily press briefing, instead substituting an off-camera “gaggle.” Politico reporter Kenneth Vogel was quick to unearth a video from December 2016 of Spicer telling Jake Sherman, another Politico reporter, that banning outlets would classify the government as a dictatorship.
The clip comes from a December 16 interview Spicer gave to Politico Playbook about the presidential transition process. Asked by Sherman about the Trump campaign’s history of “blacklisting” certain outlets (including Univision, BuzzFeed, Politico, the Daily Beast, the Huffington Post, the Des Moines Register, and the Washington Post), Spicer said, “We have a respect for the press when it comes to the government, that that is something you can’t ban an entity from.” He added: “I think that is what makes a democracy a democracy versus a dictatorship.”
As Vox’s Tara Golshan writes, among those barred from Friday’s meeting were: “CNN, the New York Times, Politico, BuzzFeed, and the majority of the foreign press. ... Time and the Associated Press boycotted the gaggle, according to reporting from CNN.” For now, it appears these outlets were only excluded from this specific meeting, but Spicer’s actions still seem to be in direct tension with his words during the transition.
The generous interpretation of Spicer’s words, and actions, is that in the Politico quote he may have meant an ongoing ban, and today’s ban only affected a single briefing. But it’s a wan excuse. Spicer, today, set down the path he warned against in December.
Here’s the video of Sherman and Spicer’s exchange:
SHERMAN: One of the things that the Trump campaign gained notoriety for, and was criticized for, was banning reporters, banning outlets. Politico was one of them. You’ve said, I think, that you’re not — that’s not going to happen.
SPICER: I think, look, there’s a big difference, I think, between a campaign where it is a private venue using private funds and a government entity. And I think we have a respect for the press when it comes to the government, that that is something you can’t ban an entity from. You know conservative, liberal, otherwise I think that is what makes a democracy a democracy versus a dictatorship.