The White House blocked a number of news organisations from attending an informal briefing yesterday, a rare and surprising move that came amid President Donald Trump's escalating war against the media.

White House press secretary Sean Spicer banned reporters from CNN, the New York Times, Politico, the Los Angeles Times and BuzzFeed from attending a "gaggle", a non-televised briefing, but gave access to a number of other reporters.

The White House said the decision was not made to exclude journalists from organisations that have been the most critical of Trump in their reporting in favour of those who are more favourable.

Although the invited included Fox News, Breitbart and the Washington Times - all considered sympathetic to the administration - the approved list also included CBS, NBC, ABC, the Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg, Time and the Associated Press.


However, reporters from AP and Time decided against attending the briefing in protest of the exclusion of other news outlets.

The unusual ban came the same day that Trump, appearing at an annual gathering of conservatives, launched complaints about the news media.

Speaking at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), Trump called reporters "dishonest" and "fake" and denounced the use of anonymous sources in reports about his administration.

Trump himself has served as an anonymous source on occasion and in the early 1990s occasionally posed as a fake anonymous source to promote himself.

His blast about anonymous sourcing came a few hours after senior White House officials demanded anonymity from reporters in a briefing to criticise a CNN report that Chief of Staff Reince Priebus had asked FBI officials to publicly disavow stories about Trump campaign aides' contacts with Russian sources.

Trump made lambasting the media a regular feature of his presidential campaign - and banned about a dozen news organisations from covering his rallies - but he seemed to ratchet up his rhetoric last week, tweeting that various news outlets were "the enemy of the American people".

He repeated that description in his speech at CPAC. And Trump kept up his Twitter attack, writing: "FAKE NEWS media knowingly doesn't tell the truth. A great danger to our country. The failing @nytimes has become a joke. Likewise @CNN. Sad!"

Amid widespread outrage among news organisations over the banning of reporters, the White House's press office suggested its action wasn't exclusionary.

"We invited the pool so everyone was represented," deputy press secretary Sarah Sanders wrote in an email.

"We decided to add a couple of additional people beyond the pool for an expanded pool.

"Nothing more than that." The "pool" is a small group of reporters that provides notes and transcripts of meetings with officials to a wider group of journalists. Reporters representing radio, TV, print and wire-service outlets serve in the pool on a rotating basis.

It's not unusual for the White House to handpick groups of reporters for some meetings. It is unusual, if not unprecedented, to have a pool of reporters cover a publicly announced White House briefing.

But when Spicer and his deputies decided to expand the pool to include several hand-picked outlets, reporters from outside the group sought inclusion, too - and were denied.

His move was almost immediately denounced by news organisations as unfair and a step toward throttling the press.

"It's not acceptable," CNN anchor Jake Tapper said on his afternoon programme. In fact, it's petulant ... This White House doesn't seem to value a free press. There's a word for this. The word is 'un-American'.

Dean Baquet, editor of the New York Times, protested the decision saying "free media access to a transparent government is obviously of crucial national interest."

National Press Club President Jeffrey Ballou said it was "deeply disturbing and completely unacceptable that the White House is actively running a campaign against a constitutionally enshrined free and independent press" ... and it reeked "of undemocratic, un-American and unconstitutional censorship."

But Ari Fleischer, who served as George W. Bush's press secretary, said during an interview on CNN that the media was overreacting. "The press has this tendency to think everything's about themselves, to hyperventilate [that] the First Amendment's under threat because of the things [Trump] says," Fleischer said. "But then they ignore all the things he does that are tremendous for the media.

"He is making journalism interesting and great again."