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Spicer on White House Press Interactions: ‘Too Often It’s Now Turning into a Circus’

Counselor to the President Kellyanne Conway speaks on television in the Briefing Room at the White House on May 14, 2018. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

WASHINGTON – Counselor to the President Kellyanne Conway told PJM that President Trump is “not afraid to answer questions,” which is “part of the reason he got elected,” and asserted that no reporters were “banned” from White House open press events on Wednesday.

CNN White House Correspondent Kaitlan Collins said she was told by White House Deputy Chief of Staff for Communications Bill Shine that she would not be allowed to cover a Rose Garden press availability with the president on Wednesday after earlier asking Trump a series of questions in the Oval Office that he did not answer. Collins was the rotating pool reporter at the time, meaning she was tasked with asking questions on behalf of the press corps at that availability.

Both CNN and Fox News have criticized the White House for the way the situation was handled.

“We stand in strong solidarity with CNN for the right to full access for our journalists as part of a free and unfettered press,” said Fox News president Jay Wallace on Wednesday.

Fox News anchor Bret Baier echoed the same sentiment, which was met with some criticism from conservatives on social media.

“We obviously are not afraid of questions. Donald Trump is not afraid to answer questions, it’s part of how he got elected. He takes his case directly to the people. I’m certainly not afraid to answer anybody’s questions, but there’s a big difference between asking a question and being politely asked to leave the Oval Office and asking six more questions. There’s an intransigence and a disrespect involved there,” Conway told PJM at the Trump International Hotel during a Thursday evening event held for the launch of former White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer’s new book The Briefing.

“It’s not about asking questions, nobody was banned, I wasn’t there, I wasn’t part of it,” she added. “But I can tell you it wasn’t about asking questions, we answer questions all the time… It’s about an intransigence and disrespect for being a guest in the Oval Office. Those questions could have been asked at a different time. The press was asked to leave. The press was asked to leave again and again and again.”

Spicer addressed the conservatives criticizing Fox News for standing in solidarity with CNN.

“There are two issues at hand. One is making sure we maintain an open and accessible government for the press corps to cover the actions. But, second, I think there’s clearly a discussion that needs to happen about the level of respect and professionalism with respect to journalists’ behavior,” Spicer said during an interview with PJM.

When asked to provide an example to support his argument, Spicer replied, “I mean, I just think that when you get up and yell at the president of the United States as one member and a couple in particular have done, that’s just a level of disrespect. When you’re having a press conference, especially with another foreign leader, it’s the president and that leader that calls on folks, and they put their hand up and act like responsible, respectful adults. And too often it’s now turning into a circus where these members of the media are jumping up and down.”

Fox Business Network’s Lou Dobbs agreed with the decision to prohibit Collins from covering the White House event on Wednesday.

“It’s about time there were consequences for disrespectful behavior,” he said.

Raj Shah, White House principal deputy press secretary and deputy assistant to the president, declined to comment further on the situation.

“I don’t work for Fox. The press secretary put out a statement about this matter. I don’t have anything to add to it,” he said.

“I think this president is one of the most accessible ever and I think he takes a lot of questions from reporters in many settings, and that’s probably not the best way to ask a question in most settings,” Shah added, referring to shouting questions in the Oval Office.

Former White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest recently said that Trump answers shouted questions more often than former President Obama did.

Even though Trump often replies to shouted questions, Spicer said there is a protocol that is usually followed.

“I think the protocol is that when the president says thank you, in that case, I think he said it four times, the staff was very clear over and over again, thank you and ushering them out,” he said. “There’s a protocol that’s existed for a long time and, obviously, I have not sat back and really thought about it but I do think there’s enough examples where there’s a lack of civility and decorum that’s due to the office.”

Trump and members of his administration often refer to the press as the “fake news media.” Conway was asked if there is a story that has stood out to her as the most factually inaccurate during the Trump presidency.

“There are many. In fact, I just saw one on my way over here and had to call over, people characterizing other people’s state of mind without asking that person. There have been many, but I would say I don’t want to get ahead of Sean’s book,” she replied. “I bet he’s included a few great examples in his and there will be plenty in mine one day.”

In response to the same question, Spicer said, “I don’t know that I want to sit here and judge, but I think there’s a lot of examples in the book that people can judge for themselves what they think.”