Some conservative media figures invited to an exclusive event with President Trump on Monday night left the White House frustrated and complaining that Trump’s staff had intentionally sought to limit what they could report out of the meeting.
The White House invitation to about 30 conservative reporters, editors, columnists and radio personalities was originally billed as a background briefing with the president, meaning that they couldn’t attribute quotes to individual sources in the room.
The gathering was instead meant to show the White House’s appreciation for outlets it believes are routinely ignored or marginalized by the mainstream press.
Representatives from Newsmax, Breitbart, Townhall, The Daily Caller and radio voices like Larry O’Connor and John Fredericks mingled with White House press secretary Sean Spicer, chief strategist Stephen Bannon, chief of staff Reince Priebus and the White House communications team.
Reporters were asked to surrender their cellphones before entering the Roosevelt Room, a meeting room in the West Wing across from the Oval Office. Their phones were stored in lockers outside the room.
One source said White House director of media affairs Helen Aguirre Ferre explained that phones had to be kept out because the Roosevelt Room is a SCIF, or a sensitive compartmented information facility, where officials view classified information.
After the briefing with the president, reporters were told that the conversation had actually been on the record and that they were free to attribute quotes to Trump and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, who was also in attendance.
That frustrated the reporters, who did not have their phones on hand to record the conversation.
Reporters rushed to retrieve their phones from outside the room to be the first to break the news over Twitter that Trump would institute new tariffs on softwood lumber entering the U.S. from Canada, sources said.
“This is what happens when Never Trump, low-energy, Jeb Bush staffers infiltrate Donald Trump’s White House,” one person present said of Ferre, a Bush campaign veteran. “The incompetence by the White House press staff does not serve the president’s interests well.”
A White House official told The Hill that CEOs, dignitaries and staff give up their phones before routine meetings in the Roosevelt Room. The room is equipped to be a SCIF, but Monday’s affair was conducted with the doors open, and pool reporters are often allowed to bring video cameras and recording devices inside to cover a meeting between the president and a foreign official, for instance.
Reporters were routinely allowed to use mobile phones and laptops during Roosevelt Room briefings with Obama administration officials.
Two conservative media figures that were present at the gathering said reporters grilled Trump on a handful of sticky political issues important to his conservative base but that no stories will come of it because there is no recording or transcript of the on-the-record meeting.
Sources said Trump dodged on two thorny questions.
The Daily Caller’s Kaitlan Collins is said to have asked Trump about why he supports amnesty for undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. as children. She had asked White House press secretary Sean Spicer the same question earlier in the day.
And conservative radio host Laura Ingraham is said to have pressed Trump on why he backed away from labeling China a currency manipulator.
“There’s no tape, no transcript — I guess some people will be able to write what they remember or scribbled down notes, but you can’t really do it without a transcript or quotes from a recording,” one source said.
The frustrations with Monday night’s meeting point to broader complaints some in conservative media have with their treatment by the Trump administration.
Many conservative outlets have more access to the White House than they’ve ever had. Conservative media outlets were largely frozen out by the Obama administration, but now they’re routinely called on at briefings or included in the press pool.
Still, some don’t feel as if they’re being treated as well as the mainstream press both they and Trump regularly rail against. They argue that Trump routinely gets on the phone with The New York Times or The Washington Post.
Of those in the room on Monday night, Trump has conducted interviews with Breitbart’s Matthew Boyle and Christian Broadcasting Network’s David Brody. Ingraham has flown as a guest of the president on Air Force One.
“They packed us in a room and made us fight for scraps,” one source said. “It’s not exclusive if you give it to 40 journalists and then make us fight over it. Did [New York Times reporters] Maggie Haberman or Glenn Thrush have to surrender their cellphones for their interview? The White House would be better served if they called on us one by one like he does with them.”
Not everyone at the meeting felt slighted.
John Fredericks, a conservative radio host from Virginia and an early Trump supporter, was outraged to hear that some were frustrated by the gathering.
“It’s sour grapes,” Fredericks said.
He argued that the briefing was originally meant to be solely on background, so it was a just nice bonus that the president went on the record to break news.
“I have a reporter’s notebook, so I took it out of breast pocket and took notes like anyone does. What, if you don’t have cell phone, you can’t do your job? That’s whining,” Fredericks said. “The president took 40 minutes of his time and answered every question. I was ecstatic with the meeting.”
Fredericks said that the Trump administration has gone out of its way to include emerging conservative media outlets that would have been frozen out by previous administrations.
Updates on this story at: http://thehill.com/homenews/administration/330356-conservative-media-disappointed-with-trump-meeting