WH Reporters Talk Hard Passes

Coming off the Gannon/Guckert mess, the White House Correspondents’ Association met this afternoon with White House officials to discuss the general procedures for credentialing reporters covering the President.

The meeting between WH Press Secretary Scott McClellan and Knight Ridder’s Ron Hutcheson, the current president of the White House Correspondents’ Association (WHCA), AP Radio’s Mark Smith, and C-SPAN’s Steve Scully helped answer a lot of questions for the reporters, Hutcheson told Fishbowl this evening.

The largely informational meeting is unlikely to result in any major changes to the credentialing process, as both sides agreed they didn’t want to be in charge of limiting access. “We didn’t ask Scott to do anything, and he didn’t ask us to do anything,” Hutcheson said. “My interest is getting people into the briefing room, not keeping them out.”

McClellan told the group that the Bush White House was using the same procedures for credentialing that had been passed along by the Clinton administration.

The White House generally offers two types of passes for reporters: A hard pass for regulars that requires the reporter first to receive a Congressional press credential from the Capitol’s Standing Committee of Correspondents; or a one-time daily pass that’s open to any reporter who provides a name, address, Social Security number, and news organization and then passes a quick Secret Service background check. While some White House reporters have discussed limiting access to “daily” passes to reporters with the Congressional ID, Hutcheson said he wasn’t sure that was the best solution.

“There are a lot of people who don’t come over regularly to the White House, and whatever happens we can’t end up with some onerous procedure to get in there if someone needs to come over and cover their governor or something,” he said. “Our goal is inclusion not exclusion.”

Hutcheson said that while he’s received a lot of questions of White House correspondents about the credentialing procedure, he didn’t sense a “groundswell” of support for making any changes. He said, “All of us recognize that in trying to solve that problem, it might create more problems.”

The topic of White House credentialing will be discussed further at the Correspondents’ Association’s previously scheduled board meeting at the end of the month, although there are no formal proposals on the table.