National Press Club

Why did Trump block all but Russian state media from Oval Office?

May 11, 2017 | By Kathy Kiely | kkiely@press.org

The National Press Club on May 11 criticized a Trump administration decision to exclude reporters from a White House meeting between the president and top Russian officials.

Dismissing a request from the White House Correspondents Association, the White House press office refused to allow reporters into the top of a May 10 meeting between the president and two top Russian officials, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Ambassador Sergey Kislyak.

The embarrassing result: News from inside the White House being made available to the world exclusively from Russian news sources.

For its own reasons, the Russian foreign ministry and the government-controlled Tass news agency made the photographs available to the public.

“We at the National Press Club are dismayed that the President of the United States, traditionally a role model for transparency, has ceded that position to others,” said Jeff Ballou, president of the National Press Club.

“Time and time again, this administration demonstrates a lack of understanding of the role of the press in a free society,” added Barbara Cochran, president of the National Press Club Journalism Institute. “Reporters occupy a privileged position inside the corridors of power because they have a great responsibility: to serve as the eyes and ears of the public.”

Contrary to the way President Trump likes to portray things, the U.S. press is not an “opposition party.” The diversity of views was on full display at an April 19 forum sponsored by the National Press Club Journalism Institute and the National Press Foundation, where executives of major news organizations openly debated the best way to respond to the administration’s ham-handed attempts to control news coverage.

You can view that discussion here.

As the video shows, reporters are well aware that their difficulty getting access to the highest office in the land is not the most pressing issue facing the American public.

But as CBS News Washington Bureau Chief Chris Isham said, referring to a mutiny he helped lead when former President Barack Obama’s press office tried to exclude Fox News from a round of interviews with the major TV networks: “The White House doesn’t decide who’s pool. We do.”

“Our government made a wise decision a long time ago to leave governance of the press — whether on Capitol Hill, the White House or elsewhere -- to the press. Government officials should not be in the position of deciding who gets to cover them,” said Kathy Kiely, press freedom fellow at the National Press Club Journalism Institute. “That is one step away from deciding what the public has a right to know.”

“We urge President Trump and his deputies to return the United States to its traditional role as a beacon of free speech,” said John M. Donnelly, chair of the National Press Club Press Freedom Team.

The National Press Club is the world's leading professional organization for journalists. Through its Press Freedom Team, the Club works to promote freedom of expression and transparency at home and abroad. The National Press Club Journalism Institute, a non-profit affiliate, equips news professionals with the skills to innovate, leverages emerging trends, recognizes innovators, and mentors the next generation of journalists.