Leadership

Correspondents’ Association Criticizes Nominees’ Lack of Press Access

By / Oct 27, 2016 Hillary Clinton, shown talking to reporters on her campaign plane last month. (Brian Snyder/Reuters)

The White House Correspondents’ Association has sent letters to Secretary Hillary Clinton’s and Donald Trump’s campaigns, requesting the nominees quickly agree to having protective press pools.

During an election season fraught with questions surrounding the relationships both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump have with the press, the White House Correspondents’ Association adds another to the list.

On October 18, WHCA sent letters to both candidates’ campaign managers, drawing attention to the fact that neither has yet agreed to a protective pool—the group of reporters that travel everywhere with the president and file reports for the larger press corps.

“The WHCA expects the new president-elect to have a protective pool immediately, just like the president does, and we are set to take over coordination of the pooling process from the campaign press corps directly after the election,” read both letters, originally posted by the Huffington Post. “Not having a protective pool accompany the president-elect would be a particularly serious breach of historical precedent and First Amendment responsibilities. It would prompt consistent and public criticism from the White House press corps, represented by the WHCA board. We urge you to take steps now to ensure that a protective pool is put in place.”

By comparison, President Barack Obama and John McCain had established protective pools before their parties’ conventions in 2008, while Mitt Romney and President George W. Bush had theirs set by August 2012 and September 2000, respectively.

WHCA said that having the pools selected well before the election enables an easier transition post-election when the group takes over coordination. Establishing a protective pool also allows for “transparency, access, and the timely flow of information” in the event of an unexpected historic event or a threat on the president’s life.

While Clinton’s press pool currently travels with her, WHCA stated that it did not qualify as protective as it’s not always informed of her whereabouts. For example, during this year’s 9/11 ceremony when Clinton left early for health reasons, her pool was unaware of when she left and her location afterward.

“That failure of transparency about Secretary Clinton’s whereabouts and condition created an unnecessary panic about her health situation that dominated the news cycle for days,” the letter said. “Having a protective pool would have remedied the kind of chaos and speculation that resulted from those events, which did not serve the public’s interest.”

Clinton’s Press Secretary Brian Fallon responded: “Since the convention, we have taken a number of steps to improve our traveling press corps’ ability to cover Hillary Clinton, but of course it is the job of news organizations to always press for greater access. We respect that, and intend to have continued conversations with them about the issues they have raised.”

To Trump, WHCA lamented his lack of press access, his overall treatment of reporters, and his refusal to allow the press to travel with him. In one instance, his press corps was left behind in New York while he traveled to New Hampshire and missed all but the last three minutes of that rally. His campaign has not responded.

“The campaign has indicated its desire to provide as much transparency and access to the press as possible,” the letter said. “There is a simple solution: establish a protective pool and allow the press pool to travel on the candidate’s plane like every major party nominee in recent memory, including the current Democratic nominee.”

This isn’t the first time the candidates have drawn the ire of WHCA. In a July USA Today column, outgoing WHCA President Carol Lee condemned Trump’s banning reporters and Clinton’s refusal to answer questions during press conferences.

“We believe that whenever media access is restricted, the public’s right to know is restricted,” she wrote. “Transparency is the key to a well-informed electorate, and without a well-informed electorate, our democracy is put in jeopardy.”

Alex Beall

Alex Beall is an associate editor for Associations Now with a masters in journalism and a penchant for Instagram. More »

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