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While Claiming to Support a Free Press, White House Defends Decision to Ban Reporter From News Conference

"A free press does not—and will not—have the topics of its questions dictated by the White House."

Strained relations between President Donald Trump's White House and the news media reached a low point on Wednesday when a CNN reporter was banned from a press conference after asking the president questions about his former attorney, Michael Cohen, and Russian President Vladimir Putin. (Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images)

On the heels of President Donald Trump's Orwellian remark advising supporters that what they read in the news "is not what's happening," the White House released its own statement claiming that it supports a free press—directly after banning a reporter from a news conference.

After CNN correspondent Kaitlan Collins, according to the Trump administration's version of events, "shouted questions and refused to leave despite repeatedly being asked to do so" at an Oval Office press meeting, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders and Deputy Chief of Staff for Communications Bill Shine told Collins she would not be welcome at a later press conference in the Rose Garden.

"To be clear, we support a free press and ask that everyone be respectful of the president and guests at the White House," the communications officials concluded.

Journalists and free press advocates responded to the obvious disconnect in the White House's statement.

"I was blocked from attending an open press event at the White House because the White House did not like the questions I posed to President Trump earlier in the day during an event in the Oval Office with the president of the European Commission," Collins told her network.

After the two leaders made statements at the Oval Office event, Collins explained, "I and several other reporters started asking President Trump questions. This is a normal occurrence and it [was] also our only chance to ask President Trump questions that day."

"To address the thing about how Collins 'refused' to leave the session upon request: Such a 'refusal' could well be attributed to just about any pool representative who has filed into an Oval Office meeting," wrote media critic Erik Wemple at the Washington Post. "That's because Trump's long-suffering press wranglers start shouting 'time to go' at the very moment that the formalities conclude—and then Trump proceeds to drag things out by taking a question here, a question there. Reporters have pretty much learned to tune out the cries of the wranglers in hopes of securing answers to their shouted questions."

Collins' questions to the president addressed two of this week's major news stories—Trump's White House invitation to Russian President Vladimir Putin and a tape that his former lawyer, Michael Cohen, released in which the president was heard apparently arranging a payment to a former model who has claimed she had an affair with him.

"Did Michael Cohen betray you, Mr. President?" Collins asked. "Mr. President, are you worried about what Michael Cohen is going to say to prosecutors?...Why has Vladimir Putin not accepted your invitation, Mr. President?"

"Just because the White House is uncomfortable with a question regarding the news of the day doesn't mean the question isn't relevant and shouldn't be asked," said CNN in a statement. "This decision to bar a member of the press is retaliatory in nature and not indicative of an open and free press. We demand better."

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