FishbowlDC Exclusive:The White House Correspondents Association (WHCA) board late last month discussed a proposal to post pool reports written by reporters on its own website, seizing control from the White House, which has long distributed the reports.
The issue has been a dicey one over the years. During the George W. Bush administration, the White House refused to say who was on the distribution list of more than 1,000, which included lobbyists and government officials across town.
Why, board members asked during the meeting, do the pool reports still go through the filter of the White House press office? White House veteran George Condon of Congress Daily, called to appear because of his knowledge on the issue, explained that it started with the Eisenhower administration when poolers used carbon paper. It was simply faster to have the official White House stenographers help get the information out.
But the practice continued into the Internet age, and, despite the ease of group mailing, reporters traveling in a tight pool with the president still send their reports directly to the White House, which forwards them to reporters.
The board discussed whether it would be feasible to post pool reports on the WHCA website for reporters to access, which means the WHCA — not the White House — would decide who can view them. No decision was made, but the board agreed to have an association “town hall” to discuss how to change the pool report guidelines.
One little tidbit that emerged during the meeting also involved the pool, but concerned who should remain in the small group in the case of a national emergency.
Condon noted that on 9/11, the Bush White House shrunk the press pool from 12 members to five, causing controversy. When that happened, former President Bill Clinton apparently called Ron Fournier of the AP to reveal that the Bush WH had invoked the “nuclear bunker pool.”
Nobody in the press had heard of such a special pool and nothing ever came of it. Condon suggested outlining guidelines before the next crisis.
The WHCA, which voted to raise the cost of the annual dinner to $225 per seat, also decided to continue its tradition of having a holiday party.