Tillerson Holds a Press Conference Without U.S. Media

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson held a news conference with the Saudi foreign minister in Riyadh on Sunday, but he left the American media behind.

State Department spokesperson R.C. Hammond said Tillerson — who was traveling with Donald Trump on his first foreign trip as president — was invited at the last minute to participate in a news conference with Saudi Arabian Foreign Minister Adel bin Ahmed Al-Jubeir. Only foreign media were invited.

“Regrettably, there was not enough time to alert or make arrangements for U.S. media to participate. Under different circumstances, U.S. media would have been alerted,” Hammond said, in a rare admission of an error by the administration. “Steps were immediately taken to ensure a transcript could be produced and distributed to reporters. Ideally, members of the U.S. press corps should have had the option to attend the press conference and ask questions.”

Tillerson and Jubeir had taken a few questions from U.S. reporters on the trip on Saturday. Tillerson is also now expected to speak to reporters on Air Force One en route to Israel on Monday.

White House deputy press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said U.S. reporters “were not excluded at all” and that Tillerson had agreed to join the news conference “on the spot.”

A rushed transcript by the Daily Mail’s David Martosko was sent out to the White House pool on Sunday, transcribed from Saudi TV. The State Department later sent out an official transcript to the entire press corps.

The U.S. secretary of state has at times had a strained relationship with the reporters who cover him. The State Department has not been holding regular daily press briefings, as previous administrations did, and on his first trip to Asia, Tillerson did not take any pool reporters, instead cherry-picking a White House reporter from the conservative-leaning viral news site Independent Journal Review for an exclusive interview.

The reporter did not act as a pool reporter, sharing material with other news outlets, but did publish the transcript of her interview, along with a longer feature piece on Tillerson. In that interview, Tillerson was less than enthusiastic about media access and said the status of pool reporters would be “trip dependent.” On his next trip, Tillerson allowed two reporters acting as a pool to accompany him.

[Politico]

Roll Call Reporter Says F.C.C. Security Pinned Him to a Wall

A reporter said he was pinned against a wall by two security officials in a public hallway at the Federal Communications Commission in Washington on Thursday after he tried to ask a question of a commissioner.

The reporter, John M. Donnelly of CQ Roll Call, said the officials’ behavior did not end there. They then waited for him outside a restroom, one of them followed him to the lobby and, under the implied threat of force, ejected him from the building, Mr. Donnelly said on Friday.

The commission said in a statement that it had apologized to Mr. Donnelly more than once and had told him it was on a heightened security alert on Thursday “based on several threats.” The commission did not respond to an email seeking elaboration about the nature of the threats or how Mr. Donnelly was perceived as a danger.

Mr. Donnelly, who customarily covers defense and national security issues, said he was at a public hearing hoping to speak to one of the commissioners for a story he was reporting.

The F.C.C. held a hearing on Thursday about net neutrality rules and when it ended, the commissioners fielded questions from reporters in an impromptu news conference. Mr. Donnelly said he wanted to discuss a different topic privately. As he waited in a hallway for one of the commissioners, he spotted Commissioner Michael P. O’Rielly.

“Commissioner, I have a question,” Mr. Donnelly said he began to say, but that was as far as he got before two security officials in plain clothes turned their backs on him, stood together and in a vise move pressed him into a wall for about 10 seconds as the commissioner walked by.

Mr. Donnelly said he is 165 pounds and 5 feet 10 inches tall. By his estimate, each of the security officials weighed at least 20 pounds more and were about the same height or slightly taller. Mr. Donnelly, 56, said he was not hurt but was incredulous about what happened.

“I tried to ask a question of a public official in a taxpayer-funded public building, and I did so politely, and I was treated as if I had thrown food at a commissioner,” he said. “There was absolutely nothing in my countenance that could be perceived as a threat. I think they interpreted that I was going to ask a question, and they were determined to stop it.”

He was holding a recorder, pen and pad and was wearing a press pass, he said.

Mr. Donnelly said he asked the men: “Really? You’ve got to block me like that?” He said one of the security officials, whom he identified as Frederick W. Bucher, asked why he didn’t ask his question at the news conference.

The identity of the other man was unclear. Mr. Bucher works for the Security Administration of the F.C.C., according to public records. A request to the commission for an interview with him went unanswered.

Mr. Donnelly said the article he was developing was unrelated to the hearing, and he wanted to ask his question out of earshot of other reporters at the news conference. It is common practice in Washington and other government settings for reporters to ask questions or attempt one-on-one interviews outside a press gaggle to protect an exclusive story.

He said the officials were “up in my face” and made clear verbally and in their body language that they wanted him out of the building. When Mr. Donnelly left and sat in a wooden chair in the lobby, Mr. Bucher approached. After some back and forth about why Mr. Donnelly was still there, the reporter said he was told he would have to leave.

In an exchange on Twitter, Mr. O’Rielly, the commissioner, wrote that he did not recognize Mr. Donnelly. “John, I saw security put themselves between you, me and my staff,” he wrote. He said he “didn’t see anyone put a hand” on Mr. Donnelly but that he didn’t doubt his account. Mr. O’Rielly apologized and added, without elaboration, that he was also “freezing and starving.”

“I appreciate the apology,” Mr. Donnelly replied. “But ‘put themselves’ there makes it sound dainty. They pinned me.”

Mr. O’Rielly, who was appointed to the commission by President Obama in 2013, did not respond to an email and a tweet seeking comment. The F.C.C. did not respond to questions about what, if any, changes might be made by security officials after the episode.

Two Democratic senators, Tom Udall of New Mexico and Maggie Hassan of New Hampshire, sent a letter on Friday to the commission demanding a full explanation of what happened and seeking assurances that security staff would not restrain or threaten journalists in the future. They called it “a new low point in a disturbing trend” under the Trump administration.

Kathy Kiely, the press freedom fellow at the National Press Club Journalism Institute in Washington, said in a statement on Friday that the encounter reflected the current political climate.

“Incidents like these, occurring under a president who has openly threatened a free press, take on a greater and more ominous significance,” Ms. Kiely said. “And they do not seem to be isolated.”

Last week, a reporter in West Virginia was charged with a misdemeanor count of willful disruption of governmental processes after he persistently called out questions to Tom Price, the secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, in a hallway at the State Capitol in Charleston, W.Va.

But Mr. Donnelly, who is the chairman the National Press Club’s team on press freedom and is president of the Military Reporters and Editors Association, said he did not want to put what happened into a political context. “The important thing is not me,” he said, “but what is the culture of the F.C.C. that says this is O.K.?”

[New York Times]

Trump Told Comey to Consider Jailing Reporters Publishing Leaks

President Trump reportedly told now-ousted FBI Director James Comey to consider jailing reporters who publish leaked classified information, according to The New York Times.

One of Comey’s associates told the newspaper that the conversation occurred shortly after a joint meeting on Feb. 14 that included Vice President Pence and Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

Following a terrorism threat briefing, Trump reportedly told everyone to leave the room except for the FBI director.

The source told The Times that Trump then began discussing the leaks to the news media and asked Comey to consider jailing reporters for publishing classified information.

According to the report, Trump also asked Comey to end the federal investigation into former national security adviser Michael Flynn.

Following the meeting, Comey wrote in a memo that Trump told him, Flynn “is a good guy. I hope you can let this go.”

[The Hill]

Kellyanne Conway blames negative coverage on ‘sexist’ and ‘Trumpist’ media

It’s all about the “feigned pained look, the furrowed brow, the curled lip.”

Or comments such as, “That makes no sense” or “You must be lying” that anchors make anytime an advocate of President Trump goes on television to defend him.

Kellyanne Conway said that’s what television anchors and hosts have resorted to — all in the pursuit of going viral.

“They think it’s the job of the news media now, which it’s not, of course,” the White House counselor said Sunday during an interview with Fox News host Howard Kurtz.

Conway doubled down on her criticisms of the media, specifically on the level of negative coverage of the Trump administration and how the president’s surrogates are treated on air. The harshness and combativeness of TV interviews, she suggested, are attributable to “the quest to go viral,” especially “when there’s nothing else to say.”

“It really doesn’t help democracy and it doesn’t help the body politic because people are looking for the news,” Conway said. “They’re not looking for conjecture. They don’t care that something goes viral and a late-night host gets a couple of laughs out of it. The idea that people are so presumptively negative toward so much that’s going on.”

Her comments, it appears, were inspired by her combative interviews with CNN anchors Anderson Cooper and Chris Cuomo last week in the aftermath of Trump’s abrupt firing of FBI Director James B. Comey. Cooper rolled his eyes in response to a statement by Conway, inevitably paving the way for a viral GIF of his eyeroll. Cuomo, on the other hand, berated Conway throughout the interview.

Cooper’s eyeroll is “possibly sexist,” Conway said, and “definitely what I’d call Trumpist,” a new term that apparently describes anything anti-Trump.

She added that the media — without naming any news outlet or individual reporter — has largely focused on criticisms while ignoring “the news reports or the facts.”

“It feels like there’s this conclusion in search of evidence,” she said, adding later: “No good comes out of it … having to hear all the blather and having to hear all the nonsense and the negativity and the falsities.”

Toward the end of the congenial and largely uninterrupted interview, Kurtz asked about Trump’s tweets and what the media is supposed to do when the president says or tweets something controversial, such as this tweet last week: “James Comey better hope that there are no ‘tapes’ of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press!”

“How do you not cover that as a story?” Kurtz asked.

Conway did not comment on the tweet and instead further criticized media coverage — specifically the media’s “obsession with every tweet and every comment,” while ignoring things such as job growth and the “amazing trade deal” with China.

“That’ll impact more people. it’s like, ‘Trade deal on beef with China. Yawn!’ ” Conway said as Kurtz chuckled. “That’s news. That affects people. That’s significant movement.”

Conway was probably referring to a recent government report stating that the U.S. economy added 235,000 jobs in February and that the unemployment rate dropped to 4.7 percent, compared with 4.8 percent in January. A report the following month, however, had lower numbers. Employers added 98,000 jobs in March, the lowest gain in nearly a year.

The Trump administration also recently reached deals with China to ease market access for a variety of sectors, including beef and financial services.

Conway was a constant presence on cable news interviews in the months immediately after Trump’s victory in the 2016 election. Her appearances on Cooper and Cuomo’s shows this past week aren’t the first combative interviews she has had. The now-famous “alternative facts” comment was made by her during a tense back-and-forth with NBC’s Chuck Todd on “Meet the Press.”

Her TV interviews have become less frequent in recent months. The hiatus has prompted rumors that she had been sidelined, and it led to a “Saturday Night Live” sketch mocking her prolonged absence.

[Washington Post]

Media

 

Unhappy with Comey Coverage Trump Threatens to Cancel Press Briefings

In a flood of angry tweets Friday morning, President Trump threatened to cancel press briefings as he continues to grapple with the fallout from his abrupt firing of his FBI director and the conflicting stories he and his aides have told about it.

“As a very active President with lots of things happening, it is not possible for my surrogates to stand at podium with perfect accuracy!” Trump said. “Maybe the best thing to do would be to cancel all future “press briefings” and hand out written responses for the sake of accuracy???”

In a striking reversal one day earlier, Trump told NBC News that he planned to fire Comey even before meeting with top-ranking Justice Department officials and soliciting their recommendations on his performance.

“I was going to fire regardless of (their) recommendation,” Trump said in an interview with NBC’s Lester Holt, calling Comey a “showboat” and “grandstander” who led the agency into turmoil.

He also specifically brought up the ongoing Russia investigation. “In fact, when I decided to just do it, I said to myself – I said, you know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story,” Trump told NBC. “It’s an excuse by the Democrats for having lost an election that they should’ve won.”

These reasons contradicted the White House’s assertions — and even the widely disseminated termination letter Trump sent Comey — that the dismissal was based on the recommendations of Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who criticized Comey’s handling of the email investigation into Hillary Clinton last year.

Trump’s statements raised even more questions about his decision to fire the FBI director who was running an investigation into possible collusion between Trump campaign associates and Russians seeking to influence the 2016 presidential election.

That coverage of the Comey story prompted the Friday tweetstorm from the president, who also continued to loudly deny that he or his team had anything to do with Russia’s hacking Democrats during the 2016 election.

While Democrats continue to decry the timing of Comey’s firing was a way to short-circuit the ongoing counterintelligence probe, Trump tweeted that is is all politics: “Again, the story that there was collusion between the Russians & Trump campaign was fabricated by Dems as an excuse for losing the election.”

In yet another tweet, Trump called the investigation into his campaign associates’ ties to Russia a “witch hunt,” insisting that former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said there was no collusion.

[USA Today]

 

 

 

President Trump Attacks ‘Lunatic,’ ‘No-Talent,’ ‘Dumbest Person’ in TV

President Donald Trump says he thinks CNN’s Chris Cuomo looks like a “chained lunatic” on television. CNN’s Don Lemon is “perhaps the dumbest person in broadcasting” and CBS Late Show host Stephen Colbert is a “no-talent guy” who talks “filthy.”

Those were just some of the comments Trump offered over dinner Monday night when asked about the media he consumes as President of the United States. But he did little to hide his frustration, explaining that he had been surprised that the journalistic criticism had gotten worse after the campaign. He also said he had been working on tuning out news that is critical of him.

“I’ve been able to do something that I never thought I had the ability to do. I’ve been able not to watch or read things that aren’t pleasant,” he said, maintaining that he no longer watches CNN or MSNBC. “And it keeps you young.”

There was little doubt, however, that he remained acutely aware of what reporters and correspondents were saying about him. He has large flat-screen televisions set up in the Treaty Room in the White House residence and in his private dining room in the West Wing. He continues to have stacks of newspapers and magazines delivered to his office suite in the West Wing.

“Washington Post, New York Times, they’re really, really dishonest,” he said, before directly addressing the TIME reporters he had invited for dinner. “You people are quite dishonest in all fairness.” He said he used to watch MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough but no longer does. He also claimed to have helped CNN president Jeff Zucker, an old friend and business colleague, get his job at the network.

The one network he praised was Fox News, saying he watches their shows and is responsible for its ratings bump.

Spokespeople for MSNBC and CBS said the networks had no comment on the president’s criticism. A CNN spokesperson said, “His comments are beneath the dignity of the office of the President.” Trump’s claims about CNN’s Zucker have been repeatedly refuted by the executives involved.

Here’s an extended excerpt of his conversation with TIME:

For instance I don’t watch CNN. I don’t watch MSNBC. Scarborough used to treat me great. But because I don’t do interviews and stuff and want to … He went the other way. Which is fine. He’s got some problems. But I don’t watch the show anymore. It drives him crazy. I don’t watch the show.

I do watch Fox in the morning, and their ratings have gone through the roof because everyone knows I’m watching Fox. But they’re pleasant. And if I do something wrong they report on it. I don’t mean they – if I do something wrong. But it’s really, honestly it’s the most accurate.

CNN in the morning, Chris Cuomo, he’s sitting there like a chained lunatic. He’s like a boiler ready to explode, the level of hatred. And the entire, you know the entire CNN platform is that way. This Don Lemon who’s perhaps the dumbest person in broadcasting, Don Lemon at night it’s like – sometimes they’ll have a guest who by mistake will say something good. And they’ll start screaming, we’re going to commercial. They cut him off. Remember?

I’ve seen things where by mistake somebody they bring in a guest and it turns out to be a positive. And they go, I mean they get just killed. The level of hatred. And poor Jeffrey Lord. I love Jeffrey Lord. But sometimes he’s sitting there with eight unknown killers that nobody ever heard of. And CNN actually is not doing nearly as well as others. They’re all doing well because of me. But it’s not doing as well as others that are doing better actually. But Fox treats me very fairly. MSNBC is ridiculous. It’s just bad.

It’s an ability I never thought I’d have. I never thought I’d have the ability to say, they’re doing a big story on me on CNN and I won’t watch it. And it’s amazing, it doesn’t matter. But it really, the equilibrium is much better. As far as newspapers and things, I glance at them. They’re really dishonest. I mean they’re really dishonest.

Trump also brought up The Late Show host Stephen Colbert’s blistering and crude May 1 monologue, in which the comedian delivered an oral-sex joke about the president and Russian President Vladimir Putin:

You see a no-talent guy like Colbert. There’s nothing funny about what he says. And what he says is filthy. And you have kids watching. And it only builds up my base. It only helps me, people like him. The guy was dying. By the way they were going to take him off television, then he started attacking me and he started doing better. But his show was dying. I’ve done his show. … But when I did his show, which by the way was very highly rated. It was high—highest rating. The highest rating he’s ever had.

(h/t Time)

Trump’s Meeting With Russian Officials Was Closed To Media — Except Russian Media

President Donald Trump’s meeting Wednesday morning with two top Russian officials was closed to all press — except, apparently, official government photographers.

Trump met with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, along with Russian Ambassador to the United States Sergey Kislyak.

“The Lavrov meeting was closed to the press and the only visual account we have of it thus far is via handout photos from the Russian government,” The Hill’s Jordan Fabian wrote in a pool report Wednesday morning. “Those images show Trump also met with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak.”

Gizmodo’s Matt Novak noted on Twitter that Getty wire images of the meeting were credited to TASS, which is commonly described as state-run or state-owned.

Fabian later reported that an unnamed White House official told him: “On background, our official photographer and their official photographer were present, that’s it.”

The Associated Press noted that photos it distributed from the meeting were government hand-outs and credited the Russian Foreign Ministry, though it did not list the photographer Alexander Shcherbak, as Getty did.

White House spokespeople did not immediately respond to TPM’s questions about the press arrangement Wednesday. TASS’ Washington bureau chief, Andrei Sitov, told TPM that no one from his bureau was present at the meeting.

“Apparently the TASS person was admitted at the request of the Russian Foreign Ministry as the official photographer for the Russian side,” Sitov added in a later email. “He is permanently assigned to cover FM Lavrov. His pictures from the meeting are available at the Russian FM’s Flickr. I was not even aware of this.” The Foreign Ministry’s Flickr page can be found here.

The White House published it’s own official readout of the meeting:

President Donald J. Trump met today with Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov of Russia, following on the visit of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to Moscow last month. President Trump emphasized the need to work together to end the conflict in Syria, in particular, underscoring the need for Russia to rein in the Assad regime, Iran, and Iranian proxies. The President raised Ukraine, and expressed his Administration’s commitment to remain engaged in resolving the conflict and stressed Russia’s responsibility to fully implement the Minsk agreements. He also raised the possibility of broader cooperation on resolving conflicts in the Middle East and elsewhere. The President further emphasized his desire to build a better relationship between the United States and Russia.

(h/t Talking Points Memo)

Reporter Arrested After Repeatedly Questioning Health Secretary

Dan Heyman, a reporter for Public News Service, said he was arrested at the West Virginia State Capitol after trying to ask Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price a question about the House-passed healthcare bill to repeal and replace ObamaCare as the secretary was entering the building.

In a press conference held shortly after posting bail, Heyman said he asked Price repeatedly about whether domestic violence is considered a pre-existing condition under the new GOP healthcare bill.

According to Heyman’s account, he waited for Price to come into the building and then reached past those accompanying Price with his phone and repeatedly asked his healthcare question, adding that a number of other reporters wanted to bring up the issue of pre-existing conditions.

He said capitol police at some point “decided I was just too persistent in asking this question and trying to do my job and so they arrested me.”

The event concluded with a press conference at the end of Price’s visit, which Heyman reportedly could have attended but did not.

According to the criminal complaint by the capitol police, Heyman was “aggressively breaching the secret service agents to the point where the agents were forced to remove him a couple of times from the area walking up the hallway in the main building of the Capitol. The defendant was causing a disturbance by yelling at Ms. Conway and Secretary Price.”

The officer who filed the report said he and another officer “were able to detain the defendant before he tried aggressively to breach the security of the secret service.”

“As the criminal complaint explains, this is not about someone trying to ask questions,” said Lawrence Messina, the director of communication for West Virginia’s Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety, which oversees the capitol police.

“The individual repeatedly tried to push his way past secret service agents who were providing for the safety and security for an event at the state capitol. There were other reporters present who asked questions without incident,” Messina continued.

Heyman said he couldn’t remember how many times he asked the question, but he added that it is his job to ask questions, expressing disbelief that he was arrested.

“First time I’ve ever been arrested for asking a question. First time I’ve ever heard of someone getting arrested for asking a question,” he said.

Heyman said he asked his question in a public space and received no warnings that he was in the wrong place or doing other activities to warrant his arrest.

“No police officer told me, ‘You’re in the wrong place,’ ” he said.

The police “put hands on me, although they didn’t hurt me, certainly,” he added.

Heyman asked them if he was under arrest, according to his version of events, and they said he was. He also said he told the police he was a member of the press.

The police didn’t immediately read him his Miranda Rights, he added, because they were not asking him questions.

“It’s dreadful. This is my job, this is what I’m supposed to do. I’m supposed to find out if someone is going to be affected by this healthcare law. … I think it is a question that deserves to be answered,” he added.

Heyman had to pay a $5,000 bond and was charged with willful disruption of governmental processes, a misdemeanor.

(h/t The Hill)

Media

 

Trump Attacks News Media Over ObamaCare Repeal Coverage

President Trump attacked the news media Friday night on Twitter over perceived negative coverage of the House GOP’s passage of legislation aimed at repealing and replacing ObamaCare.

“Wow,the Fake News media did everything in its power to make the Republican Healthcare victory look as bad as possible,” Trump tweeted. He also predicted the Republican plan would be “far better” than the Affordable Care Act.

In a second tweet, Trump questioned why the news media “rarely reports” that ObamaCare “is on its last legs and that insurance companies are fleeing for their lives?”

“It’s dead!” Trump declared, reiterating a longstanding position.

(h/t The Hill)

Reality

Maybe the Republicans should have put forth a bill that didn’t kick 24 million people off of healthcare, raise rates for the elderly, and allow insurance companies to discriminate based on preexisting conditions?

The reality is, when the CBO had a chance to score the first version of Trumpcare, it was very clear the insurance markets are stable. This idea that Obamacare is in a “death spiral” is pure fiction.

 

 

 

FCC to Investigate, ‘Take Appropriate Action’ on Colbert’s Trump Rant

Late night talk show host Stephen Colbert’s controversial joke about President Trump drew the attention of the Federal Communications Commission. The agency received “a number” of complaints about Colbert’s commentary earlier in the week, according to the FCC’s chief.

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai promised to “take the appropriate action” following a comprehensive investigation of Colbert’s remarks.

The FCC’s response will depend on whether Colbert’s remarks are considered “obscene.”

“We are going to take the facts that we find and we are going to apply the law as it’s been set out by the Supreme Court and other courts and we’ll take the appropriate action,” he told Talk Radio 1210 WPHT Thursday.

“Traditionally, the agency has to decide, if it does find a violation, what the appropriate remedy should be,” he said. “A fine, of some sort, is typically what we do.”

Broadcast television is governed by different rules depending on the time of day, Pai said Wednesday, prior to viewing Colbert’s comments.

The FCC flags speech it considers “indecent” before 10 p.m., he told Fox Business Network, and looks for “obscene” content after that point. Colbert’s “The Late Show” airs at 11:35 p.m. ET on CBS.

The agency’s website states that content must meet a three-tier Supreme Court test to be labeled “obscene.”

“It must appeal to an average person’s prurient interest; depict or describe sexual conduct in a ‘patently offensive’ way; and, taken as a whole, lack serious literary, artistic, political or scientific value,” it reads.

Colbert on Monday unleashed a flood of insults at Trump, satirizing an interview with CBS news the president cut short the day before.

“The only thing your mouth is good at is being [Russian President] Vladimir Putin’s c—k holster,” he said of Trump.

Colbert on Wednesday defended his joke amid fierce backlash online.

“I don’t regret that,” he said. “[Trump], I believe, can take care of himself. I have jokes; he has the launch codes. So, it’s a fair fight.”

Reality

Last week all Republican media, like Fox News, could stop talking about how the First Amendment is under attack because Ann Coulter wasn’t able to bring her racist hate speech to Berkley, CA. This week they want Stephen Colbert fired over jokes they didn’t like.

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