CNN Uncorks Lunacy-Filled, Self-Absorbed Special on the Supposed Greatness of the WH Press

On Thursday night, correspondent Randi “Kush” Kaye offered an hour-long special entitled Battle in the Briefing Room: The President vs. The Press that, other than some interesting history on the White House Briefing Room, served as nothing more than a pompous exercise in lamenting how they believe the Trump administration has been unfair to them and are unraveling American democracy.

The endeavor was dominated by attempts to make viewers to feel bad for CNN as they’ve clashed with the Trump administration, fondly look back on past administrations, and offer hissy fits about how, thanks to online and social media outlets, they’ve lost the ability to control the minds of the American public.

 

 

In the first exchange worth unpacking, Kaye wondered to top carnival barker/chief White House correspondent Jim Acosta why have “these White House press briefings that has become must-see TV for people.” Acosta blamed it not on CNN, his colleagues, himself, or the change in party, but instead Sean Spicer’s infamous January 21 briefing.

“He basically turned those briefings into must-see TV,” Acosta claimed.

Minutes later, Kaye threw a pity party for political analyst and American Urban Radio Networks correspondent April Ryan for her “Russian salad dressing” exchange with Spicer. Ryan complained that she had “asked a simple question” with Spicer not exerting “a level of respect that we're supposed to have for each other.”

Kaye agreed and then added how “the rules of engagement” were “out the window” because Spicer chose to call on “conservative or non-traditional media” outlets first instead of establishment media types along with ending briefings on his timeline instead of “the senior wire reporter.” 

Too bad, so sad! Kaye showed the same pity for her colleagues that she did for Saddam Hussein 12 years ago tomorrow, fretting prior to his execution whether he would “suffer in death.”

When he got to Sarah Sanders, senior White House correspondent Jeff Zeleny offered an arguably sexist slight: “She’s combative as well, but just a little sweeter about it.” And Kaye had this take: “What the administration wanted you to believe was still more important than fact.”

In a rare moment of criticism, Clinton administration press secretary Mike McCurry pointed out that, as briefings started being filmed: “We started seeing repetition of people asking the same question because they wanted to be on camera asking the question for purposes of their own network broadcast.”

Kaye later went to the subject of Trump taking questions at pool sprays or on the White House lawn versus former press conferences. Once again, the narrative c,ontinued that we should feel bad and how liberal journalists not getting their way bodes ill for America’s future (click “expand”): 

KAYE: As for those solo presidential news conferences, President Obama did 20 of them in his first 23 months. President George W. Bush did seven. President Trump has also done seven. One in the East Room, less than a month after inauguration. 

TRUMP: The reporting is fake. [SCREEN WIPE] I just see many, many untruthful things. 

KAYE: Another in New York. 

TRUMP: Somebody said, well, this is the first news conference in a long time. I said, what do you mean? Everytime I sit, I take a lot of questions from people that are screaming like maniacs. 

KAYE: It's the informal, unplanned Q&A the President prefers. 

TRUMP: I think we're going to have a very successful —

KAYE: He's had more than 300 of those interactions, quadruple the number President Obama had. 

TRUMP: Any questions? 

KAYE: So is this President's preference for informal over formal a problem? 

MAGGIE HABERMAN: It is a problem and to be clear, it’s not as if asking him questions will necessarily result in truthful, candid answers, but it is important to be able to, in this U.S. democracy, to question our President and he has shielded him from that. 

RYAN: Mr. President, are you a racist? 

HABERMAN: Formal press conferences give you a chance to ask questions at greater length. They're not on the fly. You’re not shouting them. He doesn’t get to control when he cuts it off the same way. 

But in totality, there was nothing like the final segment in terms of being divorced from reality. Kaye began by wistfully going back to the final days of CNN’s dearly beloved Barack Obama’s presidency: “Three days before Sean Spicer took the briefing room podium and attempted to alter facts President Obama used the same room to remind reporters about their obligation to dig for them...The right to free speech and a free press.”

Zeleny gushed that “[i]t was almost like a parting lesson about the importance of the fourth estate, the importance of the First Amendment.” This was the same guy who asked Obama after his first 100 days what enchanted him most about the presidency, so it wasn’t surprising.

Kaye then touted an Acosta outburst in August about Trump’s media attacks and allowed senior political analyst David Gergen to offer some cockamamie conspiracy theory about gun violence occurring at a future Trump rallies: “And if you have open rallies, and have these where there are a lot of guns and you get people all whipped up. You do not know what's going to happen next.”

She then rehashed the White House clashes with Acosta and colleague Kaitlan Collins before bringing things to close on a crazy note (click “expand”):

KAYE: In May, Sean Spicer suggested the daily briefings were no longer worth the administration's time —

SPICER: The time and effort that it takes to get that briefing going and what you get on the outside — you know, in return is not worth it anymore. 

KAYE: — an appalling argument to White House reporters past and present. 

GEORGE CONDON: It is the only time that our government stands up there and is even partly held accountable. You need to take questions. 

KAYE [TO DONALDSON]: Some people have suggested they're just a waste of time now, there's no substance to them. 

DONALDSON: No. 

KAYE: You should just get rid of the daily briefing. 

DONALDSON: No. Don't give up. Don't give up. Reporters, people in the press know anything, it's that you don't give up. Quiescence, complacency, is the enemy of the truth. 

(....)

GERGEN: The real danger is what comes after and if we establish a new norm, that truth plays second to politics, that the press briefing room is being weaponized against opponents, I think that’s going to weaken one of the basic foundations of our democracy.  We’ve always taken for granted our democracy as sacred. It's been here forever. It's going to stay forever. Over a dozen countries since the end of the Cold War have gone from being democracies to authoritarian states. We’re not there yet, but if we let these sacred traditions slip away from us, this can be very, very hard to rebuild.

To see the relevant transcript from CNN Special Report – Battle in the Briefing Room on December 27, click “expand.”

CNN Special Report – Battle in the Briefing Room
December 27, 2018
12:02 a.m. Eastern

RANDI KAYE: KAYE: On Pennsylvania Avenue, past the posing —

CROWD: Liar! Liar! Liar! Liar!

KAYE: — and the protests, is the gate the White House press corps uses to get to work. Down a short driveway, past the green tents where TV reporters do live shots —

JIM ACOSTA: When you come through the gates of the White House, it doesn't take you very long to walk right into the West Wing. 

KAYE: — that Regal Portico is the gateway to the Oval Office. The office of the President of the United States, the man who constantly attacks —

DONALD TRUMP: The world's most dishonest people. 

KAYE: — and tries to undermine the mainstream media. 

TRUMP: I call it the fake news the enemy of the people. 

KAYE: About 75 feet to the left is the door where the journalists he calls enemies enter the White House. The entrance leads directly into the briefing room. Site of the much-watched —

SPICER: Hold on, and I'm trying to answer, Major. 

KAYE: — much-talked-about daily briefings. 

SARAH SANDERS: Frankly I think my credibility is probably higher than the media's. 

KAYE: Actually the briefings are no longer daily, but we're getting ahead of ourselves. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All rise. 

SPICER: It never gets boring. 

KAYE: What is it about these White House press briefings that has become must-see TV for people? 

ACOSTA: To me, two words. Sean Spicer. 

KAYE: CNN’s Chief White House Correspondent Jim Acosta says it started on Spicer's first full day. 

SPICER: Thank you guys for coming.

ACOSTA: There's no other way to describe it. When he came out that day, the day after the inauguration, and went after us about the crowd size. 

SPICER: Some members of the media were engaged in deliberately false reporting. 

ACOSTA: He basically turned those briefings into must-see TV. 

(....)

12:04 a.m. Eastern

KAYE: But the tone was set. 

SPICER: This is like the fourth time I’ve asked and answered. Blake?

PHIL RUCKER: No, but this is a different context, Sean.

SPICER: I understand. 

KAYE: And it was combative. 

SPICER: Thank you, you've asked the question now eight times. [SCREEN WIPE] Why are you asking why I didn't do it when I literally stood here and did it. [SCREEN WIPE] What are you — [SCREEN WIPE] Okay, this is silly. Next? 

KAYE: Millions began watching. 

SPICER: You also tend to overlook all the other sources that — because I know you want to cherry-pick it. 

KAYE: And Spicer often beat some long-running soap operas in the ratings.

SPICER: You're minimizing the point, Jim. It's not about one tweet. 

KAYE: In the Trump White House, facts mattered less than the story they were trying to tell.

(....)

12:05 a.m. Eastern

KAYE: And sometimes it wasn't civil either.

APRIL RYAN: You've got Russia, you've got wiretapping. 

SPICER: No, we don't have that. You've got Russia. If the President puts Russian salad dressing on his salad tonight, somehow that's a Russian connection. 

RYAN: I asked a simple question. Simple answer required. 

SPICER: You’re shaking your head. 

RYAN: No, but you want to talk about Russian salad dressing and I thought that was trite. 

SPICER: You know what, you're asking me a question and I'm going to answer it, which is the President — I'm sorry. Please stop shaking your head again. 

RYAN: There's a level of respect that we're supposed to have for each other. 

KAYE: If respect was out the window, so were the rules of engagement. 

JAY CARNEY: The press secretary conducts business governed not by law but by tradition and convention. So the convention was that the first question went to the AP reporter, Associated Press. 

SPICER: I'm glad to take some questions. Of course, you can John Roberts.

JOHN ROBERTS: There are reports that —

KAYE: Spicer started where he wanted — 

SPICER: Jim Stinson.

KAYE: — often with conservative or non-traditional media. 

SPICER: Daniel Halper, New York Post.

ACOSTA: It was essentially a message to the press, 

SPICER: Jennifer Wishon.

ACOSTA: — hey, if you don't do what we want you to do, you're going to get frozen out.

SPICER: John Gizzi.

JOHN GIZZI: All right, thank you, Sean.

KAYE: White House reporter John Gizzi, who writes for a conservative website, sees it differently. 

GIZZI: Press secretaries have historically favored reporters and publications their bosses liked over those that they didn’t.

SPICER: Okay, bye bye!

KAYE: Another way to avoid unwanted questions. 

SPICER: Thank you, guys. See you tomorrow. Happy Valentine's Day. 

KAYE: And the briefing.

REPORTERS: Sean! Sean! 

RYAN: He walked away. 

KAYE: Until Spicer, the senior wire reporter ended the briefings. Mike McCurry was President Clinton's press secretary. 

MIKE MCCURRY: I would stay out there until one of the correspondents said, thank you, Mike. 

HELEN THOMAS: Thank you.

MCCURRY: Thank you, Helen. 

(....)

12:07 a.m. Eastern

JEFF ZELENY: She’s combative as well, but just a little sweeter about it.

(....)

12:08 a.m. Eastern

KAYE: What the administration wanted you to believe was still more important than fact. 

(....)

12:16 a.m. Eastern

DAVID GERGEN: Haggerty said my job as press secretary is to help you get the news, to have the President held accountable through the press. Increasingly it's become a political arm of the White House, one could even say it's become a propaganda arm of the White House.

(....)

12:38 a.m. Eastern

JAY CARNEY: Mike McCurry has apologized to every one of his successors for being the press secretary who agreed to allow the entire briefing to be filmed.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: What’s your next move?

MCCURRY: My next move is to get out this podium as quick as possible.

KAYE: It laid the groundwork for what we have today, forever changing the questions. 

MCCURRY: We started seeing repetition of people asking the same question because they wanted to be on camera asking the question for purposes of their own network broadcast.

(....)

12:44 a.m. Eastern

KAYE: In the Trump era, this is the president's briefing room. 

TRUMP: I want to just tell you something. 

MARGARET TALEV: The President has taken the stage with him and he treats rooms that are not the briefing room as the briefing room. 

TRUMP: Thank you, everybody. 

KAYE: President Trump often answers questions in route to his chopper or at the end of Oval Office events. 

UNIDENTIFIED PRESS STAFFER: Thank you. Thank you. 

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Are you going to Jerusalem?

TRUMP: I may, I may. I'm not sure. [SCREEN WIPE] That's the Democrats —

KAYE: In June, he even did 20 minutes of Q&A on the front lawn of the White House. 

ABBY PHILLIP: Everybody's walking backwards, asking him questions. I've never seen a president do an interview on the front lawn, ever. 

KAYE: Of course President Trump's favorite place to brief?

ZELENY: The President every morning has his own daily briefing with no one there, on Twitter. 

KAYE: Mr. Trump has only been in the real briefing room once, and he didn't make it to the podium. 

ZELENY: He poked his head in, I would say about three or four feet through the door. He just was not at the microphone. 

KAYE: The President didn't stay long. Photo journalists raced to get the cameras turned on and focused. CNN’s Jeff Zeleny snapped a picture. 

ZELENY: He was walking through the door, a big smile on his face and he said, you'll want to stay tuned tonight, talking as the executive producer that he is, there will be a big announcement from South Korea. That of course was the very beginning of his Kim Jong-un meeting. 

TALEV: President Obama was willing to come in there at important times when he thought that something need to be said or engagement needed to happen. 

OBAMA: Trayvon Martin could have been me, 35 years ago. 

KAYE: Like after the not guilty verdict in the killing of Trayvon Martin. 

MARTHA JOYNT KUMAR: George H.W. Bush would come out. He did a lot of press conferences in the briefing room. 

KAYE: At least once he used the room to play a joke. 

JAY MCMICHAEL: I was sitting here and I was just reading a sports page. All of a sudden I hear this door open from behind me, I don't even look. And I hear: “Hey, can I borrow that sports page?” And I'm like, yeah, sure. I just kind of like do this, and I hear, “gotcha!” And I look up, and it's Bush 41, like in the door, and he shuts the door real fast and takes off and the whole room scrambles. 

GEORGE W. BUSH: Good morning.

KAYE: His son didn't like the space much. 

SCOTT MCCLELLAN: Because it's so compact, I mean, the podium is just a few feet away from the front row. So, he preferred more Rose Garden setting where the press is a little further back, it's a little more open, or the east room for a prime time news conference. 

KAYE: As for those solo presidential news conferences, President Obama did 20 of them in his first 23 months. President George W. Bush did seven. President Trump has also done seven. One in the East Room, less than a month after inauguration. 

TRUMP: The reporting is fake. [SCREEN WIPE] I just see many, many untruthful things. 

KAYE: Another in New York. 

TRUMP: Somebody said, well, this is the first news conference in a long time. I said, what do you mean? Everytime I sit, I take a lot of questions from people that are screaming like maniacs. 

KAYE: It's the informal, unplanned Q&A the President prefers. 

TRUMP: I think we're going to have a very successful —

KAYE: He's had more than 300 of those interactions, quadruple the number President Obama had. 

TRUMP: Any questions? 

KAYE: So is this President's preference for informal over formal a problem? 

MAGGIE HABERMAN: It is a problem and to be clear, it’s not as if asking him questions will necessarily result in truthful, candid answers, but it is important to be able to, in this U.S. democracy, to question our President and he has shielded him from that. 

RYAN: Mr. President, are you a racist? 

HABERMAN: Formal press conferences give you a chance to ask questions at greater length. They're not on the fly. You’re not shouting them. He doesn’t get to control when he cuts it off the same way. 

ACOSTA: Mr. President? 

KAYE: In January, the President cut off a question about immigration from CNN's Jim Acosta. 

ACOSTA: Just Caucasian or white countries, sir? Or do you want people from come in from other parts of the world? Whether people of color?

TRUMP: Out. [SCREEN WIPE] That's enough. Put down the mike. 

KAYE: Months later, this happened. 

TRUMP: You are a rude, terrible person. 

KAYE: The fallout has journalists alarmed. That's next. 

(....)

12:52 a.m. Eastern

KAYE: Three days before Sean Spicer took the briefing room podium and attempted to alter facts —

SPICER: This was the largest audience to ever witness an inauguration, period! 

KAYE: — President Obama used the same room to remind reporters about their obligation to dig for them. 

OBAMA: You're supposed to ask me tough questions and make sure that we are accountable to the people who sent us here. 

ZELENY: It was almost like a parting lesson about the importance of the fourth estate, the importance of the First Amendment. 

KAYE: The right to free speech and a free press. 

TRUMP: The enemy. The enemy of the people, I call them. 

SANDERS: I'm trying to answer your question. 

KAYE: In the briefing room in August, Jim Acosta made an issue of the words the President uses to try to undermine the free press. 

ACOSTA: The President of the United States should not refer to us as the enemy of the people and all I’m asking you to do, Sarah, is to acknowledge that right now and right here. 

SANDERS: I appreciate your passion. I share it. I've addressed this question. I've addressed my personal feelings. I'm here to speak on behalf of the President. He's made his comments clear. 

GERGEN: That phrase “the enemy of the people” has historic roots going back to the French Revolution. It led to a lot of violence. 

ACOSTA: The White House closed off the month of July without holding a briefing for reporters today. 

GERGEN: And if you have open rallies, and have these where there are a lot of guns —

KAYE: Like the ones the President and his press corps attend regularly. 

GERGEN: — and you get people all whipped up. You do not know what's going to happen next. 

ACOSTA: They're saying things like “CNN sucks,” “go home” and “fake news.” 

KAYE: Three months later, the White House pulled Acosta’s press pass, barring him indefinitely from the briefing room.

ACOSTA: I am now getting my hard pass to the Secret Service. 

KAYE: It came hours after this:

TRUMP: I think you should let me run the country. You run CNN and if you did it well, your ratings would be much higher. Okay, that’s enough. 

ACOSTA: Let me ask — if I may ask one more question. Mr. President, if I may — if I may ask one other questioned — are you worried

[White House staffer comes and tries to take microphone.] 

TRUMP: That's enough. That's enough. That's enough. 

ACOSTA: Excuse me, I was going to ask one other question. Pardon me, ma’am. I 

KAYE: Sarah Sanders tweeted: “President Trump believes in a free press and expects and welcomes tough questions of him and his administration. We will, however, never tolerate a reporter placing his hands on a young woman just trying to do her job.”

ACOSTA: I was trying to hang on to the microphone. I didn't put my hands on her or touch her as they're alleging. 

KAYE: After CNN filed a lawsuit, a federal judge ruled in CNN's favor. 

ACOSTA: Let’s go back to work. 

KAYE: Acosta’s access to the White House was restored and CNN dropped the lawsuit. Something similar but less severe happened during the summer. 

WOLF BLITZER: Tell us precisely what happened because it's very, very worrisome. 

KAYE: CNN's Kaitlan Collins was banned from a Rose Garden event —

TRUMP: Thank you all very much.

KAITLAN COLLINS: Mr. President —

KAYE: — for asking the President questions following an Oval Office event. 

COLLINS: Mr. President, are you worried about what Michael Cohen — 

TRUMP: Thank you very much. 

COLLINS: — is going to say to prosecutors? 

COLLINS: They thought the questions I posed to President Trump were inappropriate and inappropriate for that venue. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you, everybody. 

COLLINS: I told them that is often our only chance to ask the President questions. Those questions were questions any reporter would have asked. 

HOGAN GIDLEY: Thank you. 

KAYE: Sanders issued a statement saying Collins shouted questions and refused to leave. 

GIDLEY: Let's go. Come on, guys. Thank you very much. 

KAYE: “To be clear, we support a free press,” wrote Sanders. Another example of trying to control the White House press corps are the actual press briefings. 

UNIDENTIFIED PRESS STAFFER: Audio check. One, two, three, four, five.

JIM SCIUTTO: The White House holding its first on-camera briefing in 19 days. 

KAYE: Over June, July, and August there were a total of 13 briefings. September through December there were just five. Remember, these used to be daily and they're getting shorter too. At the beginning of the Trump administration, the average briefing was 43 minutes. During the summer Sanders' solo briefings averaged 20 minutes. 

MAJOR GARRETT: They’re shorter because they don't prepare for them as well because they don't view them as the place through which the White House actually communicates. 

SANDERS: You guys want to create a narrative that just doesn't exist. Hey, guys. 

GARRETT: And they also just feel that the briefings are needlessly contentious. 

SANDERS: John Gizzi. 

GIZZI: Thank you, Sarah. 

KAYE: John Gizzi of conservative Newsmax sees a little differently. 

GIZZI: When things get a little too tense sometimes, when there's too much shouting —

SANDERS: I let you rudely interrupt me and —

GIZZI: — then one wants to go on and do other things. 

SPICER: The briefing has become more of a show than an outlet of information for the media. 

KAYE: In May, Sean Spicer suggested the daily briefings were no longer worth the administration's time —

SPICER: The time and effort that it takes to get that briefing going and what you get on the outside — you know, in return is not worth it anymore. 

KAYE: — an appalling argument to White House reporters past and present. 

GEORGE CONDON: It is the only time that our government stands up there and is even partly held accountable. You need to take questions. 

KAYE [TO DONALDSON]: Some people have suggested they're just a waste of time now, there's no substance to them. 

DONALDSON: No. 

KAYE: You should just get rid of the daily briefing. 

DONALDSON: No. Don't give up. Don't give up. Reporters, people in the press know anything, it's that you don't give up. Quiescence, complacency, is the enemy of the truth. 

KAYE: We wanted to talk with the Trump press office about the future of the briefings, but they didn't answer any of our multiple requests. Sarah Sanders did discuss the infrequency of the briefings with Fox News in late September. 

SANDERS: I always think if you can hear directly from the President, and the press has the chance to ask the President of the United States questions directly, that's infinitely better than talking to me. 

KAYE: In the lead up to the election, the President did more interviews than usual. 

LESLEY STAHL: We keep hearing that the White House is in chaos. 

TRUMP: It's so false. 

KAYE: And answered many informal reporter questions. 

TRUMP: This is one of the most important elections. [SCREEN WIPE] I think we're going to do well with the House. [SCREEN WIPE] I would call in the military, and I would seal off the border. 

KAYE [TO ZELENY]: Do you worry that this is the new normal, that future administrations will handle the press the same way that the Trump administration has? 

ZELENY: The press has evolved with every president from the Fireside Chat to Twitter now. So who knows what the next president will use to communicate things? But I hope the briefing room remains because it is that one chance where you can ask questions about your government. 

ZELENY: These denials that have been coming in — 

GERGEN: The real danger is what comes after and if we establish a new norm, that truth plays second to politics, that the press briefing room is being weaponized against opponents, I think that’s going to weaken one of the basic foundations of our democracy.  We’ve always taken for granted our democracy as sacred. It's been here forever. It's going to stay forever. Over a dozen countries since the end of the Cold War have gone from being democracies to authoritarian states. We’re not there yet, but if we let these sacred traditions slip away from us, this can be very, very hard to rebuild. 

SANDERS: Thanks, guys.

KAYE: And you thought it was just a room. 

ACOSTA: Sarah, it's the third briefing you've not taken a question from CNN. Do you expect the Justice Department to enforce all subpoenas, Sarah?


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