White House Correspondents Battle Over Press Access

It may have been a golf game that raised the issue, but according to the White House Correspondents Association, there's more at play for its members than simply a photo-op with Tiger Woods.

It may not have gotten the story it wanted over the weekend, but the White House Correspondents Association may have surfaced an even bigger one in the process.

There is a very simple but important principle we will continue to fight for today and in the days ahead: transparency.

On Sunday, complaints about White House correspondents’ access to President Barack Obama bubbled over publicly, raising issues of transparency and press access. And the association that represents the journalists found itself at the center of the controversy, speaking out for its members. More details:

The complaint: Over the weekend, Obama went golfing at the Floridian Yacht & Golf Club in Palm City, Florida. But he wasn’t alone. Trailing him were numerous members of the media, who found themselves shut out of the resort, their access to the president blocked. It would have been nice for a photo-op—Obama was golfing with Tiger Woods—but there is a bigger issue at play, according to the White House Correspondents Association, and it’s one the group’s president, Ed Henry, made clear in a statement: “I can say a broad cross-section of our members from print, radio, online, and TV have today expressed extreme frustration to me about having absolutely no access to the president of the United States this entire weekend. There is a very simple but important principle we will continue to fight for today and in the days ahead: transparency.”

The backstory: The issue, the association argues, has little to do with the president’s golf game; instead, it’s about consistently limited access the reporters say that they’ve had to Obama. Last year, former ABC News White House correspondent Jake Tapper (who recently moved to CNN), raised the issue on his blog, pointing out that the president often took time for local news outlets or entertainment media outlets such as People Magazine but left White House reporters without access for as long as two months at a time.

The response: The White House rejected the notion that media access was being unfairly blocked. “The press access granted by the White House today is entirely consistent with the press access offered for previous presidential golf outings,” said Obama’s deputy press secretary, Josh Earnest. “It’s also consistent with the press access promised to the White House press corps prior to arrival in Florida on Friday evening.” On Tuesday, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney defended press access to the president more generally, noting that he once was a press correspondent himself. “The president has given 591 interviews since taking office, 104 with major networks,” he said.

The rebuttal: In an article in Politico explaining the association’s stance (which has earned some criticism from other journalists), Henry, whom you might know as Fox News‘ chief White House correspondent, argued that the issue was Obama’s overall track record while in office. “We’re not interested in violating the president’s privacy. He’s entitled to vacations like everyone else. All we’re asking for is a brief exception, quick access, a quick photo-op on the 18th green,” he noted. “It’s not about golf—it’s about transparency and access in a broader sense.”

When your members are facing challenges that may be preventing them from doing their jobs, when is it time to step in and help? Let us know how you’d handle such a challenge in the comments.

Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a senior editor for Associations Now, a former newspaper guy, and a man who is dangerous when armed with a good pun. MORE

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