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HuffPost, TPM In White House Pool: Newspaper Reporters Gripe

First Posted: 03/18/10 06:12 AM ET Updated: 05/25/11 03:50 PM ET

Press Pool

Hey, kids! According to Michael Calderone of Politico, a "debate" has been "sparked" over the "new [White House] pool rotation." This debate is raging, I'm sure, among the handful of people who are deeply invested in White House pool reporting, a subset of humanity that excludes the millions of Americans who are living their lives, happily ignorant of what "White House pool reporting" even is.

For the benefit of those millions of Americans, a brief explainer. There is this thing called the "White House Press Corps" and its members are more or less embedded at, duh, the White House. And they regularly question White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs in briefings, and are responsible for providing their news organizations with detailed reports about the president's actions and meetings and pronouncements.

This work also necessitates keeping account of the picayune details of the president's daily activities. But it's not economical to make every single reporter in the corps cover this minutiae, and God knows it would only take time away from their ongoing efforts to nail the Salahi party-crash story, among other pressing stories.

So, on a daily basis, one member of the print press corps has to shadow the president and compile a report about what time Air Force One took off and landed, when the president played golf and where the president ate a hamburger and what condiments he used. It can look like thankless work -- and crucially, it's mostly unnoticed work -- but it's an important part of press politesse, in that nominal competitors work as a team for the betterment of all. It's also the sort of work that lots of people would consider themselves lucky to get to do.

But, now, concerns have been raised about new pool assignments. And, yes, this is about to get somewhat meta. Per Politico:

...White House reporters have privately discussed and debated the recent addition of sites like Talking Points Memo and Huffington Post into the White House in-town press pool. It's not that reporters are criticizing the work of either Christina Bellantoni or Sam Stein, but some have expressed concerns about pool reports coming from left or right-leaning news organizations that will then be used by the rest of the press corps.

Let's note: When Christina Bellantoni does pool reporting for the right-leaning Washington Times, no one bats an eyelash. But when Christina Bellantoni does pool reporting for leftward Talking Points Memo... OH LORDY BE, MY GARTERS, THEY BE POPPIN'!

Stepping forward to lay out "concerns" is Peter Baker of the New York Times:

Baker said he has no problem with outlets like Huffington Post, which he described "an important part of the marketplace of ideas." But the site, he said, has a mission "to produce pieces with strongly argued points of view" and that puts the Times--or other non-partisan news organizations--"in a position of relying on overtly ideological or opinionated organizations as our surrogate news gatherers."

But no one in the debate has made clear exactly how "overtly ideological or opinionated organizations" might fail in the task of reliably recording the details that get written up in the pool report.

Calderone raises some concerns of his own:

But still, some White House reporters question that if TPM and HuffPost join, who might be next? Already this year, the pool has grown with the addition of Politics Daily, Salon and Ebony. (POLITICO joined in 2007, the same year of its launch). And there's likely to be more additions in the near future, including news organizations that may not even exist yet.

Who knows what these imaginary reporters will do, to the JOURNALISM, once they finally get around to existing? THE DEBATE RAGES.

But if you're out there still wondering what sort of shady shenanigans go on with White House pool reporting, I have some interesting examples which nobody (outside of the reporters who strive to take this work seriously) ever seems to be concerned about:

The press likes to engage in self-indulgent bitchcraft about the way they are treated!

August 27, 2009: "Pool Report 6," by Elizabeth Williamson, Wall Street Journal (excerpted):

The verdant entry to the entry road to the entrance of the Vineyard Golf Club is as close as we get to potus right now, colleagues. Given the deteriorating state of our bus toilet, a number of us have chosen to stand outside. So we are holding (it) for 18 holes and watching a very social woman from the club screen members as they drive in. She just told a woman dressed in pink and green that she needs to strip search her. She is joking--but what happens in the Vineyard stays in the Vineyard. Tourists/residents keep walking/biking up to watch and ask questions. But the secret service--and likely the bus miasma--is driving them off.

The press likes to pointlessly snark each other out (for freedom!):

May 13, 2009: "Pool Report 1," by Jonathan Weisman, Wall Street Journal (excerpted):

The one near-casualty of the departure was the Politico's Jonathan Martin, who, after a leisurely last-minute jaunt to McDonald's and a cool stroll to the press charter, left his one change-of-shirt on the Andrews Air Force Base bus. It was rescued and brought on to Air Force One by CNN producer Erika Dimmler for a tearful reunion in Tempe, no doubt. No word on his change of underwear.

To think that Sam Stein and Christina Bellantoni might upset the delicate balance of this super-serious journalism!

Finally, here's a curiosity worth noting! On July 4, 2009, pool report duties fell to a gentleman named Paul West, of the Baltimore Sun. He reported on the White House's Fourth of July party, from the vantage of a separated press pen. Here's what he filed:

Faces spotted at random in the crowd included AG Eric Holder, White House adviser Valerie Jarrett, press secretary Robert Gibbs (gamboling with his son on the big West Wing play set), social secretary Desiree Rogers, Obama chums Martin Nesbitt and Dr. Eric Whitaker, and Mike Allen of Politico.

Mike Allen, who is also a member of the White House Press Corps, did what reporters do with pool reports: repurpose them for their own reporting. But when Allen pasted West's report into his "Playbook" column, look at what he did (via Gawker):

File that away, Politico, if you're concerned about people using the pool report to be manipulative!

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