The New York Times’ Sheryl Stolberg dipped herself into a bit of hot water this week with a throwaway line in a pool report from a private fund-raising event President Bush attended in Boca Raton, Fla.
Telling reporters who did not get to tag along for the trip just what happened, she wrote: “Fancy gated neighborhood called The Sanctuary, with big stucco houses. Jordan Zimmerman, founder and chairman of Zimmerman advertising, was the host. Your pool was holed up at the next door neighbor’s house, where there was a verrrrrry expensive Bentley and a less expensive Mercedes in the garage. We were in the pool room. Very big, but tacky decor, in the humble view of your pool.”
No doubt, the room was tacky (Stolberg knows tacky). But the little line in “Pool Report #3” sent a few shockwaves through the White House. A bit later, she sent out “Pool Report 3A.”
“Your pool is informed that some readers took offense to the previous pool report’s description of the pool hold in Boca, which shall not be repeated here.
“Upon reflection, it seems an apology is in order to those who open their homes so that we might do our jobs. Please excuse your pool’s lack of graciousness. Good manners sometimes slip away after a tiring day,” she wrote.
Indeed they do, and everyone who has ever done pool duty for 10 hours knows the feeling (one of the best ever was by Bob Deans of Cox News, who let fly some brilliant invective after trailing the president at a reclusive resort in Kananaskis, Calgary).
We asked Stolberg just who those “some readers” were.
“The some readers appear to be White House staffers, one of whom reported to me that our pool reports ‘go to a wide White House audience, and many reporters, and I will be honest that several people have e-mailed about this pool report.’ ”
“Which brings me to an important point: Calling the home tacky was tacky, and an apology was in order. That said, I am deeply concerned that our pool reports ‘go to a wide White House audience.’ Pool reports are for reporters, not White House officials. We wouldn’t allow the White House into our newsrooms to read our notes, and we should do something about it if the White House is widely circulating our pool reports. I’ve been uncomfortable with the fact that the White House is responsible for distributing them, and this makes me even more so.”
Join the club. The White House Correspondents’ Association has tried to address the problem several times, but never has succeeded. News organizations that travel regularly spend a fortune, and then send their color to everyone — even those reporters who never spend a dime on travel.
Note to the WHCA: The mood is changing (just as it is across America). There will soon be a full-fledged revolt on this issue, and the organizations that travel regularly will win. Money talks. It’s a rule.