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Rep. Carolyn Maloney backs ‘vital’ press, assails Trump administration

Civil liberties lawyer Norman Siegel defends a free

Civil liberties lawyer Norman Siegel defends a free press during a rally Saturday, Feb. 25, 2017, outside The New York Times building in Manhattan. At left is Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-Manhattan). Photo Credit: Steven Sunshine

A Manhattan congresswoman, hailing the press as “more vital now than ever,” demanded Saturday that the Trump administration stop barring select news organizations from its White House briefings.

Rep. Carolyn Maloney, a Democrat, stood in solidarity outside the Eighth Avenue headquarters of The New York Times — one of the handful of news outlets Trump press secretary Sean Spicer barred from a briefing a day earlier.

“There’s no democracy without freedom of the press. It’s absolutely vital, and you can’t single out and exclude based on the content of what a reporter writes,” Maloney said.

At issue is an informal briefing Spicer convened in his office with some news organizations but not others.

According to a recording of the briefing, Spicer said: “We’re going to aggressively push back. . . . We’re just not going to sit back and let, you know, false narratives, false stories, inaccurate facts get out there.”

Maloney said of reporters: “They’re more vital now than ever because the Republicans now control the House, the Senate and the executive branch, so the Democrats cannot initiate oversight.”

Civil liberties lawyer Norman Siegel, who attended Maloney’s rally, said he’d like to see a joint lawsuit by news organizations to challenge the Trump administration’s exclusions, on First Amendment-prohibited viewpoint-discrimination grounds.

“You give censors an inch, and then they take a yard, and then they take a mile, and then you wake up one morning, and you don’t have your rights anymore,” said Siegel, the former head of the New York Civil Liberties Union.

He said he was troubled, too, by other administrations’ behavior, including under former President Barack Obama, when Fox News was briefly frozen out in 2009, and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, who at a parade in October handpicked two outlets for interviews as the NYPD kept the rest behind barricades.

An Obama rep couldn’t be reached, and de Blasio spokesman Eric Phillips said, “To say one-on-one interviews are unconstitutional or have no place in the media landscape is absurd.”

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