This is not your Father's White House Correspondents' Association. This one has teeth! Under the leadership of President Christi Parsons and her Board, there is no hesitation about taking on the President and his staff. They are fighting to gain more access from the White House, and convey the truth to the public.
To this end, the WHCA sponsored a remarkable event on the 25th of October. On a beautiful Saturday afternoon, about 100 members flocked to the headquarters of the National Association of Broadcasters, or NAB. The WHCA presented two panel sessions and honored four top journalists who have covered the White House for decades. Those honored were Tom DeFrank - now of the National Journal, Ann Compton - now retired from ABC News, and Bill Plante and Mark Knoller of CBS News. Tributes were paid to their remarkable careers, and special drinks were created in their names.
The first panel was moderated by President Christi Parsons of the LA Times and the Chicago Tribune. Panelists were Susan Page of USA Today, Terry Hunt of AP, Andrea Mitchell of NBC, and Brooks Kraft, formerly of Time.
The second panel was moderated by Carol Lee of the Wall Street Journal. It consisted of Margaret Talev of Bloomberg News, Jon Karl of ABC, Peter Baker of the New York Times, and Stephen Collinson, now of CNN.
The panel discussions were spirited, funny, and informative. The main themes were transparency, openness, and on-the-record access to the President and his senior advisors. One of the suggestions included weekly press conferences with the President. There were complaints about the way the press corps is managed and controlled by the White House. Modern Administrations believe they can go over the head of the media, and talk or write directly to the public. Some reporters pointed out this has not really helped the President, whose popularity has slipped (but is not nearly as low as that of Congress).
Some of us old timers talked about the days when there was more openness in the operation. All of us had a chance to be called on, there were no pre-arranged lists, and often our questions were answered! It was messy, chaotic, but effective. I have been fortunate enough to have covered the White House since Lyndon Johnson's days in 1968, so I have lived the changes. But we now have to deal with terrorism, security problems, and the 24-hour news cycle. More people have the chance to be citizen journalists. We can't bring back the past, but that is not all bad. Whatever happens, we can expect the new White House Correspondents' Association will be there fighting for us!
Connie Lawn at the White House