CNN sent a courtroom sketch artist to cover a White House press briefing

For the third time this week, the White House on Friday banned TV cameras from a news media briefing. Lacking footage and wanting some kind of visual element, CNN came up with a rather creative solution: a courtroom sketch artist.

William J. Hennessy Jr., who has illustrated Bill Clinton impeachment proceedings and Iran-contra hearings over a long career in Washington, was dispatched to sketch White House press secretary Sean Spicer. A day earlier, CNN had hired Hennessy to cover the Supreme Court.

Sketching Spicer would seem to represent another effort to highlight the unusual nature of the White House press shop’s recent recalcitrance. Beyond its prohibition on filming, the White House also barred news outlets from broadcasting live audio three times this week.

On Thursday and again on Friday, CNN used an on-screen graphic to tease an upcoming press briefing, as it typically does when preparing to air a live session. The text on Thursday and Friday, however, read: “live coverage banned.”

The degree to which voters care about President Trump’s media restrictions is unclear. An NBC News-Wall Street Journal poll published Friday reflected a split in Americans’ views of media fairness. Half of Americans said coverage of Trump and Russia has been irresponsible or overdramatized; 46 percent characterized coverage as either responsible too restrained.

Whatever voters think, CNN is making sure they at least know the White House is limiting access.

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Jeff Mason, the Reuters reporter who heads the White House Correspondents’ Association, emailed journalists Friday to describe a meeting he had Thursday with Spicer and deputy press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders.

“We have urged the White House not to replace on-camera briefings with ‘gaggles,’ not-for-broadcast question-and-answer sessions,” Mason wrote. “Though they are useful and can play an important role in informing the press and the public, gaggles are not a substitute for the open back-and-forth between reporters and administration officials that regular televised briefings allow. Sean and Sarah agreed to consider these positions.”

Asked Friday about off-camera briefings, Spicer showed no sign of relenting.

“I think it’s great for us to come out here and have a substantive discussion about policies,” he said. “I don’t think that the be-all and end-all is whether it’s on television or not.”

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