WASHINGTON — The National Press Club criticized President-elect Trump today for “dangerous and unhealthy” branding of unfavorable reporting as “fake news,” cautioning that could take the U.S. down a path “antithetical to our country’s values.”
CNN, with Watergate journalist Carl Bernstein on the byline, reported Tuesday that intelligence briefers who spoke with the president-elect last week told Trump that Russia had compromising financial and personal information about the real-estate magnate.
A salacious dossier prepared by a former British intelligence operative and posted online by BuzzFeed was reportedly part of a synopsis summarizing potential compromising information. That dossier, which has been quietly circulating in intelligence and media circles for months, reportedly was commissioned by Republicans opposed to Trump during the primary cycle. After a copy was received by Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) last year, he turned it over to the FBI.
“Late last year, I received sensitive information that has since been made public. Upon examination of the contents, and unable to make a judgment about their accuracy, I delivered the information to the director of the FBI. That has been the extent of my contact with the FBI or any other government agency regarding this issue,” McCain said in a statement today.
“I think it’s a disgrace that information would be let out. I saw the information; I read the information outside of that meeting. It’s all fake news. It’s phony stuff,” Trump said at a New York press conference today. “…President Putin and Russia put out a statement today that this fake news was indeed fake news. They said it totally never happened. Now, somebody would say, ‘Oh, of course he’s gonna say that.’ I respected the fact that he said that.”
After Trump attacked CNN, reporter Jim Acosta tried to ask a question. “Your organization is terrible,” Trump said, telling the reporter “quiet” before adding, “I’m not going to give you a question. I’m not going to give you a question.”
Acosta said incoming White House press secretary Sean Spicer came up to him afterward and “did say to me that if I were to do that again, I was going to be thrown out of this press conference.”
“An unfortunate statement. Sean you know that you threatened to throw me out of that news conference if I asked another question,” Acosta replied.
CNN’s Jake Tapper responded to Spicer’s call for an apology: “Nope. Nope. Nope. And absolutely not.”
Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said in a statement tonight that he spoke with Trump and emphasized that the private security company dossier was circulating in the public domain before being brought to the intelligence community’s attention.
“The IC has not made any judgment that the information in this document is reliable, and we did not rely upon it in any way for our conclusions,” Clapper said. “However, part of our obligation is to ensure that policymakers are provided with the fullest possible picture of any matters that might affect national security.”
National Press Club president Thomas Burr said in a statement released later in the day that “with the proliferation of false news stories dotting the Internet, it is important for American leaders to discern the difference and not intentionally conflate misleading and fake stories from dogged and investigative news that is fundamental to our country.”
“It is dangerous and unhealthy to declare a news item as ‘fake news’ to distract from facts that you may not like or don’t favor your perspective,” Burr said. “Our incoming president must treat the news media as the vital cornerstone of our democracy that it is. To label something as ‘fake’ in an effort to undermine news outlets endangers the trust granted journalists by the public and is antithetical to our country’s values.”
Burr noted that news organizations “make honest mistakes and when they learn they’ve done so, they correct them.”
“That is entirely different from web sites that deliberately disseminate false information,” he said. “The president-elect appears to be conflating the two in an attempt to discredit news organizations whose coverage displeases him. Doing so may foment a dangerous disrespect for journalists who, however flawed, are merely doing their best to inform the public.”
“Presidents shouldn’t get to pick and chose which reporters’ questions they will answer based on what news outlet for which they work. Doing so now is inappropriate and will do unprecedented damage to our democracy.”