The White House has refused to send its spokespeople or surrogates onto CNN shows, effectively freezing out the network from on-air administration voices.
“We’re sending surrogates to places where we think it makes sense to promote our agenda,” said a White House official, acknowledging that CNN is not such a place, but adding that the ban is not permanent.
A CNN reporter, speaking on background, was more blunt: The White House is trying to punish the network and force down its ratings.
“They’re trying to cull CNN from the herd,” the reporter said.
Administration officials are still answering questions from CNN reporters. But administration officials including White House press secretary Sean Spicer and senior counselor Kellyanne Conway haven’t appeared on the network’s programming in recent weeks.
Spicer, speaking at an event at The George Washington University on Monday, denied that CNN is being frozen out, pointing out that he’s answered CNN’s questions in the regular daily briefings.
But, he added “I’m not going to sit around and engage with people who have no desire to actually get something right.”
The last time an administration official appeared on CNN’s Sunday public affairs show “State of the Union” was Jan. 8 when Conway was interviewed. She also appeared on CNN the following Wednesday with Anderson Cooper, the day of then President-elect Trump’s news conference at which he derided CNN for airing a report that intelligence officials had briefed both Trump and then-President Barack Obama that the Russians might have negative information about Trump. At the news conference, the president-elect refused to take a question from CNN correspondent Jim Acosta, who shouted out to Trump to answer his question since Trump was attacking his news organization.
After his inauguration, Trump has continued blasting CNN as “fake news.”
Since then, Conway, Spicer, chief of staff Reince Priebus and even Vice President Mike Pence have made the rounds on the major Sunday shows with the notable exception of CNN’s “State of the Union.”
“State of the Union” anchor Jake Tapper said on his show and via Twitter that the White House has declined his invitations to appear.
“We invited the Trump White House to offer us a guest to provide clarity and an explanation of what the president just did, especially given so much confusion, even within its own government by those who are supposed to carry out this order,” Tapper said on Sunday as he introduced a segment about the Executive Order banning visitors from some countries and putting a hold on the United States’ refugee policy. “The Trump White House declined our invitation.”
Tapper had made a similar announcement the previous Sunday.
Last week, New York magazine reported that Trump’s feud with CNN has roots in his relationship with CNN President Jeff Zucker, a former NBC president who brought Trump’s television show “The Apprentice” to the network. Trump, the magazine reported, has told White House staffers that he feels personally betrayed by Zucker and that Zucker should tilt CNN programming more favorably toward him because of their long relationship.
In an interview with New York magazine, Zucker said he’s not worried about getting access to Trump.
“I think the era of access journalism as we’ve known it is over,” Zucker said. “I think our credibility is higher than ever, and our viewership is higher than ever, and our reporting is as strong as ever.”
“One of the things I think this administration hasn’t figured out yet is that there’s only one television network that is seen in Beijing, Moscow, Seoul, Tokyo, Pyongyang, Baghdad, Tehran, and Damascus — and that’s CNN,” he noted.
Part of the effort to ice out CNN may be related to ratings.
CNN “Reliable Sources” host Brian Stelter wrote in one of his recent newsletters that an aide in “Trumpworld” told him that his ratings would likely be hurt “because no Trump administration officials had agreed to be interviewed.” Stelter said in that newsletter that his ratings were in fact his highest since last November’s election coverage at 1.3 million viewers.
It’s hard to tell whether “State of the Union” ratings have been affected by the lack of Trump officials, considering it’s less than two weeks since theinauguration. While far behind the broadcast shows and “Fox & Friends” on cable news, the past two weeks of “State of the Union” have seen higher ratings than on Jan. 8, the most recent time a Trump official appeared. They’ve also won the demo (the key age group advertisers use) over the past two weeks, and last Sunday the show had 1.25 million viewers during the 9 a.m. broadcast, and 1.42 million viewers in the noon rebroadcast.
It’s not unusual for an administration to tangle with certain outlets. The Obama administration, at times, had a rocky relationship with Fox News and limited its officials from appearing on its programs. Former Obama White House Communications Director Anita Dunn told The New York Times in 2009 that they were going to treat Fox “the way we would treat an opponent.”
“As they are undertaking a war against Barack Obama and the White House, we don’t need to pretend that this is the way that legitimate news organizations behave,” she said at the time.
A former official in the Obama administration acknowledged that they had their “battles with Fox,” and that there may have been some times where “we sent people on other networks and not on Fox.” But as a general rule, the official said, officials would go on the network.
“I think, in my hazy recollection is it would be unusual to do all [the networks] except one. What drives that is sometimes amount of time available to the person doing them,” the official said. “If they are stiffing CNN intentionally, that is different than what normally happens.”
A spokesperson for Fox News did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
A CNN spokeswoman declined to comment.
On Wednesday, the day after this article was published, the White House made Dr. Sebastian Gorka, a Deputy Assistant to the President for national security available for an interview.