American freedom of speech
It hasn't been long since the White House press briefings resembled a real war between US President Trump and journalists. The head of state called the reporters “enemies of the people” and creators of fake news. In response, he was called a “liar.” However, the relations of the US presidents with the media have never been smooth. How the White House presidential pool is structured, what “pitfalls” accompany the work of journalists covering the activities of the head of the United States – this is our material.
Photo: Press Service of the White House
From the gates of the White House to the press center
Even people far from political spheres know that the White House has a press corps, a group of journalists and media representatives whose tasks include covering the activities of the US president, events at the presidential residence and information briefings. Hardly any film about big American politics today is complete without scenes of journalists asking uncomfortable questions to the president or his press secretary. But it wasn't always this way.
Historically, for much of the 19th century, newspaper reporters focused primarily on the work of Congress. Of course, sometimes American presidents gave interviews, or more often their secretaries could talk to journalists. For example, under President Grover Cleveland, William “Fatty” Price became the first reporter to visit the White House regularly for information – though he stood outside the gate and waited to ask outgoing visitors about the news.
In short, special there was no press group to cover what was happening in the White House.
The White House Press Service took up its first duties at the presidential residence in the early 1900s. Legend has it that President Theodore Roosevelt noticed a group of correspondents looking for commentators in the rain and invited them to the White House.
Since then, over the years, representatives of the press have expanded their presence and influence in the residence of the American head of state.
Teddy Roosevelt's main innovation in relations between the press and the president is believed to be that he often met with correspondents directly ( in addition to his secretary's daily briefings). Reporters gathered around him, and the President spoke to them – he said something not for recording, but something for publication.
These meetings were not like press conferences: the president “courted” specific reporters and played up their vanity by meeting small groups of journalists in an attempt to generate favorable press coverage for himself. And if the result was unacceptable for the president, then Roosevelt refused to give correspondents access. But time passed – and the press gradually won positions in the presidential residence.
Under another Roosevelt, Franklin Delano, a new room was allocated for reporters in the White House, equipped with desks, typewriters, direct dial telephone with offices of telegraph agencies, and also card and chess tables.
Today, press- the White House secretary or deputy usually gives a briefing to journalists on weekdays in the James S. Brady Hall, which seats about fifty reporters. Each seat there is assigned to a specific media outlet, with the most famous organizations occupying the first two rows. Reporters who are not assigned a specific seat may stand up to attend the briefing.
And the first presidential press conference was held in March 1913 in the Oval Office under Woodrow Wilson. Subsequently, until 1969, media communications with the head of the United States and general press conferences took place in various locations, including the State Department Hall and the East Hall of the White House.
More than a hundred years ago, in 1914 – after rumors began to circulate among reporters that a committee of the United States Congress would select journalists who might attend Wilson's press conferences – the White House Correspondents Association (WHCA) was formed. This organization operates independently of the White House. Among the most important issues she deals with are the grading process, access to the president, and physical conditions in the White House press briefing rooms.
The most high-profile event of the Association is considered the annual dinner of the White House correspondents, which is traditionally attended by the president, which is widely covered in the media. Curiously, until 1962, this dinner was open to men only, although the WHCA included women. At the insistence of the famous journalist Helen Thomas, President Kennedy refused to attend the dinner unless the ban on women was lifted.
But Donald Trump, who fought with the press, not only skimped on participating in the White House Correspondents Association dinners, but even in April 2019, he ordered that no one from the administration should go there.
When a new US president is elected, some news organizations change their correspondents, most often for a reporter tasked with covering the new president during the election campaign. For example, after the 2008 presidential campaign, ABC News moved Jake Tupper, who had followed Barack Obama during his presidential campaign, to the position of White House correspondent.
And another interesting point: any person engaged in lobbying or PR activities is subject to exclusion from the Association. The same applies to those who have been hired directly or indirectly by any stock exchange, trading council or similar organization to buy or sell any securities or commodities.
The pool is a pool
When talking about journalists covering the activities of the President of the United States, the expression” press pool “is often used.
So, the pool (that is, translated into Russian “pool”) of the White House journalists got its name from the premises that used to be a swimming pool, built in the thirties for Franklin Roosevelt.
Under President Richard Nixon, due to the growing number of representatives of the media, the pool room was converted into a briefing room. This was seen as an acknowledgment of the essential role that the media play in the presidency of the United States.
In 2000, the facility was renamed the James S. Brady Press Briefing Room in honor of a White House press secretary who was wounded in the 1981 assassination attempt on President Ronald Reagan.
And in December 2005, the White House announced its intention to renovate an inadequate briefing room and cramped press office premises. The journalists have concerns about this: whether they will be allowed to work in the presidential residence. But the White House convention center was used as a temporary venue for press conferences. As early as July 2007, President Bush Jr. reopened the refurbished hall and held his first official press conference in the new briefing hall the day after the release of the Iraqi situation report.
Photo: Press Service of the White House
The cost of modernizing the premises was about $ 8.5 million. Each reporter's place was estimated at $ 1,500. As for President Roosevelt's own former swimming pool, after renovation it was given over to a computer server room …
Reporters go through an approval process to enter the presidential briefing room. First of all, the reporter must be approved by the Standing Committee of Correspondents, the association of reporters that approves the press to enter Congress. Journalists must also certify the credibility of the media for which they work and be verified by the Secret Service. Once a reporter receives a pass, he can renew it every year without going through the approval process again.
White House journalists include a narrower group of reporters who travel wherever the president goes, relaying information on behalf of a wider media group This narrow pool of defenses must always be with the president to protect (as the name suggests) The media from missing unexpected important information about the president.
This pool typically includes two print reporters, one television producer, one radio reporter, three news agency reporters, a cameraman with a video camera, and several photographers. Journalists on duty in the “protective pool” report in turns and share their stories with other members of the broader pool. For example, a TV producer from ABC News, who is in the pool that day, sends reports and videos to all five TV channels (ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN, and Fox News).
The fact is that due to for problems with a place or for security reasons, not all journalists who want to cover the president's activities can always do this. In addition, constant coverage of the president would be too costly for some media outlets.
As stated in Helen Thomas's book The Watchdogs of Democracy? The Waning Washington Press and How It Failed the Public ”, such a press pool was created under President Eisenhower by White House Press Secretary James Hagerty. And the sense in the work of such a group of journalists, who always accompany the president, is great. For example, when John F. Kennedy was assassinated in 1963, it was the members of the “protective pool” who were able to quickly report the tragedy in Dallas. Reporters from this pool witnessed the assassination attempt on Ronald Reagan in 1981. And on September 11, 2001, the “protective pool” located next to George W. Bush was able to report on the president's reaction to the terrorist attack and the measures taken for his safety.
So when the US president goes on a trip, he is accompanied diverse “entourage”, which includes a group of his senior assistants, advisers, speechwriters and others. However, 13 members of the media, known as the “defensive press pool,” also occupy seats on the presidential board of Air Force One, representing the world of news agencies, print newspapers, news sites, broadcast television and radio, and photographers.
< p>These journalists should send out a series of short, meaningful reports throughout the trip to those not involved. The White House Correspondents Association manages the rotation of news organizations that travel at their own expense. It is, however, clearly understood that pool members should share all the material they collect, without saving anything they saw or heard for their exclusive material. Competition by competition – but in this case, debt is above all.
Haste, stress and force majeure
Members of a narrow pool of journalists traveling with the President of the United States are expected to send their reports promptly from the scene (usually via iPhone) – and the accuracy of quotes and descriptions in these posts is of utmost importance.
“And it's often done in very difficult circumstances,” Mark Landler, who has been the White House correspondent since 2011, told The New York Times. “Get in and out of the motorcade, sometimes get in and out of helicopters, and rush to finish your message before being on board Air Force One.”
Photo: Press Service of the White House
In general, trips abroad with the President of the United States are only seemingly “an amazing privilege.” They often mean fatigue and a grueling struggle for correspondents to get information. Reporters – some with heavy equipment – sometimes have to rush from place to place to capture minutes, sometimes seconds of presidential meetings. Moreover, in order to gain access to presidential events, journalists have to compete with the foreign press and representatives of local authorities.
Mary Bruce of ABC spoke about the presidential pool experience during Barack Obama's trip to Panama. Not only did the American journalists who came to cover the president's visit had to elbow their elbows through aggressive media competitors, at some point they entered into a fierce clash with the Panamanian authorities. Pool journalists had just jumped out of the press vans at the end of the president’s long motorcade to the side door of the hotel where the president was about to deliver his civil society speech, and found the door slammed in front of us. Representatives of the American delegation shouted to the Panamanian colleagues inside to open the entrance – but to no avail. It was only after several phone calls that the correspondents from the pool were finally allowed in so that they could capture the last few minutes of Obama's speech.
Despite the fact that most of the day during the travels of the President of the United States for the members of the pool is a crazy rush and a rush, journalists also have to be patient and be able to wait until they launch to this or that event. And it also happens that the reporters who are hungry for the day are just getting ready to eat, as the team should rush back to the buses. You have to grab your equipment and run.
Such work itself is fraught with stress, and it happens that unforeseen circumstances arise “from above”.
During President Trump's trip to Paris in the summer of 2017, The New York Times White House correspondent Maggie Haberman worked in the “defensive pool”. She sent 20 emails to the rest of the print media during the day and a half she spent with the president on the plane and in France.
As reported by The New York Times, during the air flight, the American president sometimes goes to the seated in the back parts of the plane to the press to chat with reporters. According to custom, such communication is usually carried out in the “off-record” mode and is mainly reduced to jokes, lasting no more than half an hour.
But on the way to Paris, Trump stayed with reporters much longer than expected, spending more than an hour talking to reporters before returning to his private office. The next day, during the first bilateral talks with French President Macron, Maggie Haberman tried to ask a question. In response, Trump asked the journalist why she did not use what he said the night before. Haberman explained that it was not for the record – to which the president said, “No, you can use it.”
Thinking that the president was speaking “off the record,” Maggie Haberman and her fellow pooling colleagues did not prepare reports on what Trump said. The White House, which had a stenographer on the plane, provided the pool with a transcript of the conversation with the president, but two important quotes were missing. After asking the White House to amend the transcript to include the missing comments, Haberman supplemented the news with her own notes. In general, the journalists of the pool cannot avoid force majeure circumstances.
“Rude, terrible person”
In general, as you know, President Trump did not have the best relations with the press. Moreover, this became obvious even before he came to the White House, during the election campaign.
“At first it was an open question how this would all work, because the Trump campaign had such an antagonistic relationship with the press,” White House reporter Mark Landler told The New York Times. “The press corps has been concerned about everything from the beginning: the weekly briefing, setting up the briefing room, the workspace we have in the White House, and the swap pool system. All these things were originally in the air. ”
The Trump administration was subject to more stringent conditions under the Trump administration than under his predecessors. For example, the president's frequent golf trips on weekends have become a problem for reporters. “The White House almost never tells the pool what it’s doing when you’re sitting four and a half hours in its own golf club, and they never publish a list of the people it plays golf with,” says Mark Landler. By contrast, the Barack Obama administration usually confirmed that the president was playing golf, and usually provided a list of his partners.
By the way, about golf and Trump. As USA Today wrote about the press covering the life of the head of state in 2018, “when you are on duty at the pool in Florida as part of the White House pool in Florida, most of the daily reports on the president's activities are connected with waiting in vans while President Trump moves between Mar-a- Lago and its own golf course.
One such day, a variety was introduced into the boring life of reporters – the driver of the Poole bus had a weapon. What he, however, himself informed the agents of the Secret Service, discovering that he had forgotten to leave the firearm in his private car. Although the driver legally owned a firearm, all the drivers were replaced – and a White House employee drove the car with the journalists.
But this is still nonsense. Fighting broke out between Trump and the media he did not like. The victim of this “war” was, for example, CNN's chief correspondent in the White House, Jim Acosta, who staged a fierce polemic with the head of state. The journalist first began to criticize Trump's use of the word “invasion” to describe a caravan of migrants heading to the United States from Central America. And when Acosta tried to ask a question about the investigation into alleged Russian “interference” in the 2016 presidential campaign, Donald Trump tried to stop the correspondent by telling him several times “enough” and “put down the microphone.”
It was reported that the employee of Bely At home, she tried to snatch the microphone from the journalist's hands. Acosta refused to give it away, telling her at some point: “Forgive me, ma'am.”
Trump stepped down from the podium and then came back to say, “CNN should be ashamed that you work for them. You are a rude, awful person. ” When one of the journalists tried to defend Acosta, calling him a “diligent reporter,” Trump responded to the audience laughing: “Well, I'm not a big fan either.”
Hours after the press conference, the Trump administration suspended Acosta's access to the presidential residence. Press secretary Sarah Huckerby Sanders said access was denied because he “raised his hand against a young woman just trying to do her job.” The journalist himself called this statement a “lie.” Later, the Secret Service did not allow the journalist to enter the White House …
And in February 2017, Donald Trump staged a demarche by holding a closed press briefing, but did not invite representatives of the media that particularly annoyed him (CNN, New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Buzzfeed and Politico).
In fairness, it is worth noting that there were conflicts between American presidents and the press before Trump. For example, Richard Nixon banned Washington Post journalists from entering the White House after the newspaper initiated the Watergate scandal. Nixon is said to have even threatened to fire his spokesman, Ron Ziegler, if he ever allowed a Washington Post reporter to attend a presidential briefing.
For a more recent example, in 2008, Barack Obama kicked three conservative newspaper reporters from his plane during the election campaign. Formally, this was motivated by the fact that there were a limited number of seats on board for representatives of the press, who were supposed to monitor the last four days of the politician's presidential campaign. True, at the same time, they were allowed to remain non-political media, such as Glamor magazine. In response to criticism from bypassed publications, the Obama team said they allowed other media outlets like Fox News and The Wall Street Journal to stay, even though they criticized Obama.
The rise to power of Trump's antagonist Democrat Biden has become a “healing balm” for many White House journalists. But he also did not provide an idyll. In early December 2021, the Washington Post published an article by columnist Dana Milbank entitled: “The media treat Biden just as badly, and even worse than Trump.” The author of the sensational column wrote: “My colleagues in the media are accomplices in the murder of democracy.”
In the White House, Milbank's article was met with approval at the highest level, writes the Daily Mail. Meanwhile, a few days later, it was revealed that the White House had dispatched a team of three officials to speak to the press and contribute to better coverage of the Biden administration. The work was prompted by concerns that Biden was being treated unfairly, CNN correspondent Oliver Darcy told CNN. The main argument that was put forward: the country's economy is in much better condition than last year. ”