The White House is effectively halting their relationship with CNN. A White House spokesperson told Politico, “We’re sending surrogates to places where we think it makes sense to promote our agenda”—and noted that doesn’t include CNN.
The official added that the freeze wasn’t necessarily permanent, and officials are still answering questions for CNN correspondents. However, Press Secretary Sean Spicer and counselor Kellyanne Conway have been noticeably absent from the network, and Conway’s last CNN appearance was early January. Spicer, at an event at George Washington University, denied that the administration was purposefully icing out the network, though he added, “I’m not going to sit around and engage with people who have no desire to actually get something right.” Since the inauguration, Trump has continued to barrage CNN with accusations of being “fake news,” with many in his administration taking the same stance.
A CNN reporter told Politico that Trump was trying to punish the network by lowering its ratings, stating, “They’re trying to cull CNN from the herd.” Jake Tapper of CNN’s State of the Union also said on his show and via Twitter that the White House denied a request to appear on the show to discuss the new refugee ban. So far, the lack of White House officials on the network has not negatively affected ratings. Of course, it’s only been two weeks, so it’s hard to tell at this point.
There is some speculation that Trump’s attack on CNN is personal and specific to the networks’ president, Jeff Zucker. Trump and Zucker have a long-standing relationship, with Zucker purchasing The Apprentice while acting as president for NBC. Last week, New York Magazine reported that Trump has told White House staffers that he feels personally betrayed by Zucker, and that Zucker should make more of an effort to cater toward his agenda. In his own interview with New York Magazine, Zucker asserted that CNN has higher ratings than ever, and noted the networks’ strong international presence.
The isn’t the first time the White House has clashed with news outlets. It should be noted that the Obama administration had a strained relationship with Fox News, and would occasionally limit their appearances on the network. In 2009, White House Communication Director Anita Dunn told The NYT, “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.” A former official under the Obama administration told Politico that while their relationship with Fox was shaky at best, typically they would still send officials to the network. “It would be unusual to do all [the networks] except one,” he said. Unusual is one word for it.