Maybe the White House Correspondents Association isn't going far enough in its efforts to limit access to on-the-road "news" to paying media players
You can't blame correspondents who are forced by their employers to travel to goodness-only-knows-where with Chimpy the Prez for resenting that some of their colleagues are getting literally a free ride thanks to the pool system set up by the White House Correspondents Association. Now, Dan Eggen reports in his column of political notes in today's Washington Post, the WHCA is trying to deny the freeloaders access to some of those reports:
Everybody in the Pool -- or Not
Warning: Media navel-gazing ahead.
A brouhaha erupted last week among the ranks of the White House Correspondents Association, the official club of reporters who cover the aforementioned building. The trouble centers on a move by the WHCA board to limit distribution of some pool reports, which are dispatches describing photo opportunities, Air Force One flights, and other doings not open to the entire press corps.
A dwindling number of newspapers and media companies are paying to send reporters with the president when he travels at home or abroad, leaving it to a few big papers (full disclosure: You are reading one) to pick up the tab. As a result, the WHCA decided to limit some reports to those traveling with the president.
The move set off a fevered debate via e-mails that -- reporters being reporters -- were quickly leaked to Mediabistro.com's FishbowlDC.
"The idea that pool reporting on the road with the president will be available only to those who travel and pay for it should be repugnant to our profession," wrote Mark Silva of the Chicago Tribune. "I call it pay to play."
But Sheryl Gay Stolberg of the New York Times called the out-of-town pool system "broken" and wrote in an e-mail: "A system that called for pool duty -- let's not forget the word duty -- was set up so that we could share the responsibility for coverage, as well as the information gathered. Today only the information is shared."
So far the association is holding firm, but current WHCA President Ann Compton of ABC News has urged members to weigh in.
I think an opportunity is being missed here.
Why not convert all presidential briefings to a Wheel of Fortune-type format, where the content of each briefing point is reduced to the standard WoF format of a "puzzle" consisting of a familiar phrase, which the journalistic contestants compete to identify by guessing letters. Surely the NYT could afford, for example, to buy Ms. Stolberg the occasional vowel. And of course the kicker could be that only the correspondent who solves the puzzle gets, say, the single additional paragraph of information that the Bush regime is prepared to dole out for public consumption.
Press secretary Dana Perino would seem tailor-made for the Vanna White Wheel of Fortune role, but it shouldn't be too great a stretch to slot her into the Pat Sajak role. After all, she seems better suited to answering questions like "Is there a T?" than the ones she usually fields. Especially assuming she'll have an earpiece into which the answers can be fed.