A version of this article first appeared in the "Reliable Sources" newsletter. You can sign up for free right here.
It looks like President Trump is going into hiding -- from the press, that is. Facing an avalanche of controversy over his bizarre comments on sunlight and dangerous comments regarding disinfectants, the President held a record short briefing Friday evening (sans Drs. Anthony Fauci and Deborah Birx), abruptly ending it after 22 minutes of statements without taking any questions from the press.
On CNN, Wolf Blitzer called Trump "chicken" and said he was "probably afraid" of the grilling he was all but certain to face over the "flat lie" he told the day before regarding disinfectants. Later in the night, Anderson Cooper, who argued Trump was guilty of "Soviet"-like spin for pretending his comments were sarcastic during a bill signing, said he "cut and ran" because he knew he'd face hard questions.
CNN and other news organizations, including Axios which broke the news, reported Friday evening that there has been an effort among White House aides to stop holding daily coronavirus briefings. And the schedule released for Saturday shows no briefings scheduled...
The move comes after Trump even started receiving criticism from Fox. When he tried to claim that he was merely being sarcastic with his disinfectant remarks, anchors like Neil Cavuto and Bret Baier pushed back. "Wow, that is a little unsettling," said Cavuto. "Got to clarify this. The president was not joking in his remarks yesterday." And Baier said Trump "clearly stepped in it" and did not appear to be joking.
>> Worth noting: While some on Fox pushed back against Trump's remarks, AP's David Bauder pointed out that the network didn't question them on Thursday. The network's news site also questioned whether critics had "twisted" Trump's words. And Trump's biggest defenders on the network still are not challenging him. In fact, it wouldn't surprise me if Trump does an on-air chat sooner than later with one of his friends on Fox while he dodges questions from the press...
Drudge brutally mocks
It wasn't just Fox anchors like Cavuto and Baier. The Drudge Report, which has grown critical of Trump, but is still one of the top conservative news websites, brutally mocked Trump on Friday. Take a look at the site's banner headline and image (and pay attention to what the label says). Ouch!
That said, some loyal outlets tried defending
That's not to say that Trump didn't have right-wing outlets rush to defend him. Websites like The Daily Wire, The Gateway Pundit, and Breitbart all published stories trying to convince readers that Trump didn't say what he clearly said. Breitbart's story, written by Joel Pollack, was widely mocked online.
And it appeared by late Friday that it even had crossed a line for Breitbart's senior management. A note was appended to the top of Pollack's story saying it had been "erroneously framed" as a fact check when it should have been labeled opinion. "We apologize for the error, and you are welcome for all the opportunities to dunk on us on Twitter," the note said. Yikes!
>> Of course, worth noting that Breitbart's note came after Trump claimed his remarks were sarcastic, effectively admitting he made them. Which brings me to this point from Ben Collins who tweeted, "Shout out to all of the fringe media outlets who feverishly scrambled all night to claim Trump didn't say to inject disinfectant, or that he was referencing some obscure UV light treatment, only to be kneecapped at noon by the president, who now says he was just kidding..."
White House even tries reassigning seats
Back to Trump's aversion to the press... Before Friday's briefing, the White House attempted to force CNN to swap its front-row seat with the seat reserved at the back of the room for the print pooler. Kaitlan Collins, who was in the room for CNN, said on Twitter that both she and the print pooler, The Blade's Chris Johnson, refused. The briefing ultimately took place with both of them in their original seats.
The WHCA controls the press seating assignments, not the White House, so the officials had no real authority to try to pick and choose where Collins or Johnson sat. But it's worth noting the lengths the White House went to in its effort to implement this move. Johnson said he had been told by a White House official that it wasn't an option and that the Secret Service was involved. The Secret Service later told the WHCA that it was "not involved whatsoever in this effort."
Karl says WHCA will "challenge any effort" to move reporters
I spoke by phone with WHCA President Jon Karl on Friday night. "The bottom line," Karl told me, "is there is a decades long bipartisan tradition of the WHCA determining the seating assignments in the briefing room." He said, "I don't know what the White House is doing, but I know where we stand. We will challenge any effort to pick and choose what outlets are there or the manner in which they are in there."
No comment from the White House
I emailed Kayleigh McEnany and Hogan Gidley multiple times on Friday night asking for comment. Why did the White House try to force a seat swap? Why did an official say the Secret Service was involved in the matter when the Secret Service says it wasn't? I never heard back...