The Washington Post’s Paul Farhi: “Waters are getting a bit nippy in the White House pool”

From a Washington Post story by media reporter Paul Farhi headlined “Waters are getting a bit nippy in White House pool”:

The pool reports White House correspondents share can be as mundane as a grocery list and about as informative — the who, what and when of the president’s daily comings and goings, as recounted by a reporter who travels with the president for a day and relays it all to the rest of the press corps.

At least that’s the way it used to be. In the Trump era — or, more precisely, in the waning days of the Trump administration — press pool reports have taken on a more cutting edge.

“The president has nothing on his public schedule today,” began HuffPost reporter Shirish Date’s pool report Tuesday. “He also has not posted any falsehoods on Twitter about winning the election or fraud or anything else, for that matter, in more than 11 hours. The day, however, is young.”. . .

And there were the unusually colorful reports from New York magazine’s Olivia Nuzzi, who was the “pooler” for Vice President Pence on a final campaign swing through the Midwest. Pence didn’t take any questions from the press pool, she wrote: “We’ve seen him only for a couple of wooden, monarchical waves” to supporters.

Although pool reports generally aren’t circulated widely among the general public — most news organizations use just the nuggets of information buried within to write their own stories — their tone has nonetheless started to irritate members of the White House press staff. Pence’s communications chief was so put off by two of Nuzzi’s later pool filings that she took the rare step of refusing to send them via the White House’s email distribution list, leading Nuzzi to claim censorship.

Faced with such objections, the leadership of the White House Correspondents’ Association, which oversees the daily pool rotation among news organizations, has recently discussed what it can do about pool reports that stray from its rules of the road. . . .

The WHCA last updated its guidelines in 2018, when it instructed poolers to stick with the basics: “Include the facts of what the president did, when he did it, who he met, what he said, what they said. Include color,” it says. The goal is to eliminate editorializing or the appearance of bias against officials.

In most cases, this elicits rote dispatches, such as this from a campaign trip in late October: “Motorcade arrived on the tarmac at Miami International Airport at 12:25 p.m. after a short drive from Doral and pulled to a stop beside AF1 at 12:28. POTUS quickly exited his SUV and boarded using the lower stairs.”. . .

Pool reports have been a staple of White House newsgathering for decades. White House communications officials like them because they ensure a steady flow of information about photo ops and ceremonial activities. Publishers like them, too, because they relieve many news organizations of the cost of sending their own reporter on an expensive presidential trip. (News organizations take turns handling pool duty.) Pools also solve a basic logistical problem: How to accommodate journalists when a venue’s capacity is limited. . . .

In the post-election lull, with a brooding president staying almost completely out of sight, pool reporters have found themselves with little to report but their own punchiness.

“Celebratory shouting rang out through the press workspace after the press office announcement at 8:13 pm that signaled to pool reporters that they could go home,” Francesca Chambers of McClatchy reported Wednesday. . . .

Nuzzi, the New York magazine reporter, said she got crosswise with Pence’s staff after divulging in a pool report that staff members had removed their masks once they had settled into their seats on Air Force Two. Told that anything occurring on the vice president’s plane was off the record and therefore not reportable, Nuzzi doubled down — filing a subsequent pool report noting that she had never agreed to go off the record. “What if they had redecorated the inside of the plane with fluffy pink seat coverings or something, would that be off the record?”. . .

Miller told WHCA officials that Nuzzi would be left off the flight home if she continued to file reports that the vice president’s aides deemed objectionable. So Nuzzi filed a kind of pool-protest report that read, “In order to avoid being ejected from the flight, your pooler agreed to not have an eye for detail or a personality for the rest of the night.”

In retrospect, Nuzzi said, “the entire episode just further confirmed for me that Washington is run in every department by humorless, frightened people who hate themselves.” She also faulted the WHCA’s Zeke Miller for not protesting the withholding of her pool reports. He “does not possess the qualities necessary to be president of a garden club, never mind” the leading White House press organization, she said.

Pence’s office declined to comment, as did Zeke Miller.

Paul Farhi is The Washington Post’s media reporter. He started at The Post in 1988 and has been a financial reporter, a political reporter and a Style reporter

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