To coordinate coverage of President Trump’s trip to the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, the White House provided press credentials to the usual mix of American news organizations, including Fox News, Reuters and The New York Times.
One media outlet stood out: TruNews, a website aimed at conservative Christians whose founder, a pastor named Rick Wiles, recently described Mr. Trump’s impeachment as “a Jew coup” planned by “a Jewish cabal.”
Five employees of TruNews, which is based in Florida, received formal credentials from the White House to cover the president’s trip, Mr. Wiles said in an interview last week from his hotel room in Switzerland — a room in a ski lodge reserved by the Trump administration for traveling members of the American press. (Like other media organizations, TruNews paid for its flights and lodging.)
White House officials, in this and previous administrations, tend to be flexible in choosing which news organizations receive press credentials: Reporting is a form of free speech and there are no legal restrictions on who can declare themselves a journalist.
But Mr. Wiles’s ability to secure credentials after his anti-Semitic remarks — which prompted a formal rebuke from two members of Congress — has left civil rights groups deeply troubled.
“It’s a validation of their work,” said Kyle Mantyla, a senior fellow at the progressive group People for the American Way, which has tracked Mr. Wiles’s work. TruNews, he said, “sees it as the White House being on their side.”
TruNews was not granted special access to the president in Davos, nor did its members travel on Air Force One. But one of Mr. Wiles’s colleagues, Edward Szall, asked a question of the president’s daughter Ivanka Trump during a news conference.
“We want to thank President Trump and the White House for extending the invitation to be here,” Mr. Wiles said in a video from Davos. “We are honored to be here, representing the kingdom of heaven and our king Jesus Christ.”
It was not the first time TruNews has gotten close to Mr. Trump and his family.
The president took a question from Mr. Szall at a 2018 news conference in Midtown Manhattan. In March 2019, a TruNews correspondent filmed an interview with Donald Trump Jr., the president’s son, after a rally in Michigan. (A spokeswoman for Donald Trump Jr. told The Washington Post that the interview was impromptu and that Mr. Trump was unfamiliar with the site.)
TruNews, which Mr. Wiles founded as an online radio program in 1999 called America’s Hope, has a history of spreading conspiracy theories and proclaiming an imminent apocalypse. It drew more scrutiny in November after Mr. Wiles, in an online video, accused Jews of orchestrating Mr. Trump’s impeachment.
“That’s the way Jews work,” Mr. Wiles said. “They are deceivers. They plot, they lie, they do whatever they have to do to accomplish their political agenda. This ‘Impeach Trump’ movement is a Jew coup, and the American people better wake up to it really fast.”
Mr. Wiles also warned his listeners that “when Jews take over a country, they kill millions of Christians.”
Afterward, Representatives Ted Deutch of Florida and Elaine Luria of Virginia, wrote to the White House asking why TruNews had been allowed to attend presidential events. They did not receive a response.
The White House declined to comment for this article. In the past, the administration has faced lawsuits after revoking press credentials from reporters from CNN and Playboy.
On the phone from Switzerland, Mr. Wiles explained how his Davos trip had come about.
“We’re on a list of media organizations at the White House and from time to time they send out notices that there are events taking place,” Mr. Wiles said, adding that his team had also covered Mr. Trump’s visits to NATO summits and Group of 20 gatherings. He said that he received an email from the White House about the Davos trip and that his request to attend was approved.
The team from TruNews — three correspondents and a two-person production crew — stayed at a hotel where the White House had reserved a block of rooms for the use of American journalists. (As with a wedding block, those who used the rooms paid the hotel directly.) Reporters spotted Mr. Wiles at the breakfast buffet at the hotel, the Privà Alpine Lodge.
Asked in the interview if he understood why his “Jew coup” comments prompted charges of anti-Semitism, Mr. Wiles replied: “I coined a phrase. It came out of my mouth: ‘It looks like a Jew coup.’ All I pointed out was many of the people involved were Jewish.”
Pressed if such rhetoric could be reasonably interpreted as anti-Semitic, Mr. Wiles said: “It’s hard to say. I don’t know. I can tell you from my heart there is no ill will toward the Jewish people, with all sincerity.”
His critics disagree. Mr. Deutch, the representative from Florida, learned of TruNews’s presence in Davos while on a congressional trip to Jerusalem to commemorate the Holocaust.
“I can’t believe the day before I attend an event at Yad Vashem marking 75 years since the liberation of Auschwitz, anti-Semites were given WH credentials to broadcast from European soil,” Mr. Deutch wrote on Twitter. (Yad Vashem is the Israeli Holocaust memorial.)
The president of the White House Correspondents’ Association, Jonathan Karl of ABC News, has asked the Trump administration why TruNews was credentialed for the trip.
“It’s puzzling that a known hate group would get press credentials from the same White House that revoked the credentials of a correspondent for a major television network,” Mr. Karl said on Sunday, referring to Jim Acosta of CNN, whose credentials were revoked — and then restored after a lawsuit — in 2018.
“We have asked why this happened and if the White House intends to issue credentials to this group in the future,” Mr. Karl said. “We have not received an on-the-record response.”
Mr. Wiles, in the interview, said that he had been unfairly attacked by “the self-appointed gods and goddesses of the news media, who do not think we should be permitted to attend any event.” He went on to blame George Soros, the Jewish financier often cited in anti-Semitic conspiracy theories, for coordinating a campaign against him.
“I don’t think anybody can find fault with our news coverage at these events,” Mr. Wiles said. “They may not agree with our analysis and conclusions. But our behavior at these events — we’re professional, we’re respectful.”
He added: “And we’re able to get interviews with prominent people.”
Annie Karni contributed reporting.
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