White House handpicks media outlets to attend gaggle

This is a rush transcript from "Special Report with Bret Baier," February 24, 2017. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.


PRESIDENT TRUMP: And I love the First Amendment. Nobody loves it better than me. Nobody.

I called the fake news the enemy of the people, and they are. I'm not against the media, I'm not against the press. 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. "A source says Donald Trump is a horrible, horrible human being." Let them say it to my face. They should put the name of the person. You will see stories dry up like you've never seen before.


BRET BAIER, ANCHOR: President Donald Trump at CPAC, a rock star welcome there. And he spent a lot of time talking about, as he does, the media and, quote, "fake news". Late in the afternoon White House press secretary Sean Spicer had an on the record off-camera gaggle, it's called, for not the press pool but what he called an expanded pool. He did not include some networks and some organizations, and that caused quite a kerfuffle this afternoon.

The White House Correspondents Association said "The WHCA board is protesting strongly against how today's gaggle is being handled by the White House. 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."

FOX joined the complaint in the pool to the White House staff as well. But the material was accessible. It was put out by the press pool.

A little arcane, but let's bring in our panel: Byron York, chief political correspondent of The Washington Examiner; Charles Lane, opinion writer for The Washington Post, and syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer. All right, Byron, I want to get to the overall message that President Trump continues to hit on here, and the specifics of this gaggle and why it caused a lot of people to question access.

BYRON YORK, THE WASHINGTON EXAMINER: I think you were like when you called it a little arcane. I think that is probably true. I think the first thing you should say is that all of us as journalists should be in favor of as much access for everybody as possible.

That said, I don't think this was the worst thing in the world. The White House has had briefings for limited numbers of journalists for quite a while. And as you point out, not only did they get a pool report, people who were not personally there, not only did they get a pool report, they got a recording of the whole thing.

My guess is you won't see it again, and if the White House wants to stick it to some organizations, they will find more subtle ways to do it. But I think the bottom line is we should be in favor of more access for everybody.

BAIER: And that is a key, the excess. I guess on a day when the president is out at CPAC, Chuck, saying that he is going to do something about it, and then this happens, this expanded pool that excludes The Washington Post, The New York Times, TIME, others, CNN, that kind of send a message that set off alarm bells.

CHARLES LANE, THE WASHINGTON POST: Denial of access wasn't random here. It was obviously selective and targeted at various media that had been, sort of, you know, on his blacklist for some time. And he has been complaining about them specifically on calling them fake news.

I have to say that what struck me about his remarks though, was there was a hint of defensiveness in and for the first time. He took pains to say, no, no, no, I wasn't really saying all the media is the enemy of the people, just the fake media. Nobody loves the First Amendment more than I. And in the scheme of things for Donald Trump, that sounded like kind of a climb down to me in the sense that it seemed like some of the criticism he had been getting for that awful "enemy of the people" remark had started to hit home. You remember Admiral McRaven said it was one of the most dangerous things he has ever heard or words to that effect.

What the president is trying to do in a time when conservatives have a lot of internal disagreements about themselves, the one thing they can agree on is that they don't like the mainstream media. And he is trying to use that in addition to pursuing his own little quarrels with particular media, he's trying to strike this one theme that all conservatives agree on and take advantage of that.

BAIER: All right, here is another little part of the speech on a particular media outlet and the agenda.


TRUMP: Somebody said, a poll came out. And I say, what network is it? And they'll say, a certain -- let's not even mention names, right? We have a lot of them. Look, the Clinton news network is one.


TRUMP: Many of these groups are part of the large media corporations that have their own agenda, and it's not your agenda, and it's not the country's agenda. And we have to fight it, folks, we have to fight it.


BAIER: And Charles, that's a popular message with his supporters. It is what Steve Bannon talked about yesterday at CPAC. Is it working? Does it work long-term?

CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: It works on the base. He will get the cheers and applause all the time. I don't think it works anywhere else. I think people are rightly somewhat concerned. They may not be alarmed. What happened today was symbolic and minor as a real thing. But nonetheless, the symbolism is alarming.

The president uses a phrase from Lenin, "enemies of the people." If you were an enemy of the people in Lenin's day, you were dead. These are serious historical terms that shouldn't ever be used. And you are sending a message that you are hostile to certain media outlets. And as you say, on the same day you exclusively, unsubtly exclude them from a gaggle. Of course in the scheme of things, that doesn't matter, but I am glad to see that FOX joined with all of the others, we being a favored outlet for Trump, remembering that when Obama excluded FOX from access way back when, everyone rallied around us and said if you don't include them, we're not going to be there. It's the only way to do it. The press can't allow itself to be bullied. And I'm glad it's not.

BAIER: Yes. But I can hear middle America in my head, I can hear them say, God, they are obsessing about this White House gaggle, and their heads were exploding about the words that he is using. I can hear it. I can hear it on social media. It is important, though.

YORK: It is important, but I will speak for middle America here. I went to the speech day. And Trump comes out and he talks for a long time about the press, maybe 10, 15 minutes. Then he says, in conclusion, and you thought, wow, is that all he's going to talk about today? And then he delivered a very long speech, the speech that you thought he would give about his agenda, talking about what he has done, what he intends to do. I counted a dozen bullet points -- border security, violent crime, TPP, Obamacare, Keystone, regulations, lots and lots of stuff. So in an alternate universe, you could cover the, say, two-thirds of Trump's speech that was about his actual agenda.

BAIER: I should point out The Post was included. New York Times and the L.A. Times were not.

LANE: On the other hand, he took a shot at "the Washington Post" in his speech, talking about the story with the nine sources.

BAIER: You know what we're not talking about today, and every network is not talking about today, is this whole FBI deal and whether Reince Priebus talked to the FBI about getting the story straight about "The New York Times" reporting. The White House put out a very detailed kind of background on what Priebus says happened, and that "The New York Times" story was wrong. But we're not talking about that.

KRAUTHAMMER: As in many other cases, it's hard to decide whether this was a deliberate act of misdirection or whether it just happened to turn out this way. I always tend to not believe in intention and conspiracies because it gives anybody that you talk about here in Washington too much credit. They couldn't organize a two car funeral if they tried. So I would assume it was random. But it did actually take attention away from an odd story, and one that seemed to imply that even though the impetus came from the FBI, there was the White House political sort of operatives trying to persuade the FBI to make them look or to help to dismiss a story about Russian influence. And those kind of interactions are not really supposed to occur.

BAIER: And the completely pushed back on all of that. President Trump tweeting "The FBI is totally unable to stop the national security leakers that have permeated our government for a long time. They can't even find the leakers within the FBI itself. Classified information is being given to media that could have a devastating effect on U.S. Find now," he says.

But to your point, Byron, he did come on to talk about the travel ban that's coming up, the executive order next week, as well as repeal and replace of Obamacare that House Speaker John Boehner says is not going to happen. There was substance in there.

YORK: Yes. And here is the important thing about the speech in that room, the conservatives in CPAC. It was very well received. It was not below the roof off well received, but it was well received. And the people who love Trump, they loved all of it. But the people who really didn't love Trump, and there were a lot who supported Ted Cruz in the primaries, most of them had come around to support Trump, some of them not completely, they loved parts of it. They loved the part about regulation, cutting regulation. They loved the part about tax reform, about increasing military spending.

BAIER: And they loved the part that CPAC is meeting without a President Hillary Clinton.

YORK: Exactly, and that a president came in his first year came to CPAC, which hasn't happened in a very long time.

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