An empty podium is seen at an off-camera briefing held with a small group of reporters and White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer in the White House February 24, 2017
Washington (AFP) - Major US media outlets condemned as "unacceptable" and an "insult to democratic ideals" a decision by President Donald Trump's White House to bar several organizations, including CNN and The New York Times, from a daily press briefing.
In an escalation in the administration's war on the media, the White House Friday excluded some outlets that have provided critical coverage from an off-camera event that replaced the traditional on-camera daily briefing.
Friendly conservative outlets like Fox News, the One America News Network and Breitbart News were allowed to attend, while the BBC, The Los Angeles Times and others were excluded.
Trump on Friday decried the media as the "enemy of the people," a day after his top strategist promised relations with the press will get "worse every day."
A number of news outlets that regularly cover the White House as part of the "pool," including newswires Reuters and Bloomberg, attended the briefing.
The Associated Press boycotted in protest. AFP protested being excluded, despite being in the "pool," and attended the briefing uninvited.
The White House Correspondents Association said it was "protesting strongly" against the White House decision, and promised to bring it up with White House staff.
During the off-camera briefing spokesman Sean Spicer said that the White House has shown an "abundance of accessibility... making ourselves, our team and our briefing room more accessible than probably any previous administration."
It is not uncommon for Republican and Democratic administrations to brief select reporters, but the event was initially billed as a regular briefing open to credentialed media.
CNN anchor Jake Tapper decried the move as "un-American."
"This is an unacceptable development by the Trump White House," CNN's communications department wrote on Twitter.
"Apparently this is how they retaliate when you report facts they don't like. We'll keep reporting regardless."
The New York Times wrote in an editorial that the exclusion was an "unmistakable insult to democratic ideals."
Several outlets refered to a December interview in which Spicer told Politico that the Trump White House would never ban a news outlet. "Conservative, liberal or otherwise, I think that's what makes a democracy a democracy versus a dictatorship," he said.
- "Greatest threat to democracy" -
Media organizations were not alone in defending the free press.
"Trump is supposed to be a public servant, and the truth is a public good," said Robert Reich, a UC Berkeley economist, former labor secretary and a prominent Democratic figure.
"But he continues to lie incessantly, and punish media that call him out," Reich wrote on Facebook. "These are the sort of antics we'd expect from a two-bit dictator but not from the President of the United States."
John Dean, the White House counsel for Republican president Richard Nixon in the 1970s, described the Trump media bashing as "more Nixonian than Nixon."
Nixon blasted the media as "the enemy" behind closed doors, Dean, 78, told the Democracy Now! radio show on Friday.
"The big difference is, Trump is doing this right out" and challenging the US constitution's first amendment that guarantees freedom of speech and of the press. He described it as "very startling and very troubling."
"Nixon failed, and he had a deep reservoir of ill will to draw on when he got himself in real trouble. And I think Trump is creating the same problem for himself."
Trump's hostility towards the press "may be the greatest threat to democracy in my lifetime," said William McRaven, a retired admiral and Navy SEAL who oversaw the raid that killed Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in 2011.
McRaven made the remarks at the college of communication at the University of Texas at Austin, according to the student newspaper. McRaven became head of the UT system after retiring in 2014.
"Flaws and all, I believe the free press is our country’s most important institution," McRaven, who has a degree in journalism, added in a blog post Thursday.
The United States "has the finest press corps in the world, bar none," he wrote.