Presidential Campaigns Haven’t Agreed To 'Acceptable' Post-Election Press Access

The White House Correspondents’ Association says not having a protective pool would be a “serious breach of historical precedent."
Reporters ask Hillary Clinton questions aboard her campaign plane.
Reporters ask Hillary Clinton questions aboard her campaign plane.
Justin Sullivan via Getty Images

On Nov. 9, either Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump should be the next president of the United States.

But whether reporters are able to follow her or him throughout the day, as is done for the sitting president, remains unclear. Neither campaign has yet agreed to a protective pool to track the president-elect’s movements, a departure from recent election cycles.

It is not normal and it is unacceptable,” Jeff Mason, a Reuters correspondent and president of the White House Correspondents’ Association, told The Huffington Post.

The White House Correspondents’ Association oversees the rotating group of reporters who travel everywhere with the president and file dispatches to the larger press corps on what he’s doing, whom he’s meeting with and when he returns home. (Here are some examples). This arrangement, known as a protective pool, is considered necessary to ensure journalists are present in the event of any newsworthy comment or moment, including a threat on the president’s life.

Both the Clinton and Trump campaigns have traveling press pools, but neither is fully protective. The Democratic and Republican standard-bearers in recent election cycles ― including Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney ― had protective pools in place by the time they wrapped up the summer conventions.

In letters sent Tuesday to the Clinton and Trump campaigns, the WHCA’s leadership expressed “profound concern and consternation” at both for so far failing to establish a protective pool system and urged each “to remedy the situation without delay for the remainder of the 2016 campaign.”

“The WHCA expects the new president-elect to have a protective pool immediately, just like the president does, and we are set to take over coordination of the pooling process from the campaign press corps directly after the election,” members of the WHCA board wrote. “Not having a protective pool accompany the president-elect would be a particularly serious breach of historical precedent and First Amendment responsibilities. It would prompt consistent and public criticism from the White House press corps, represented by the WHCA board. We urge you to take steps now to ensure that a protective pool is put in place.”

The Trump campaign did not respond yet to the WHCA’s letter, while the Clinton campaign acknowledged receiving it, according to Mason.

Donald Trump hasn't held a news conference for three months, but he did take some questions in the spin room after the first debate.
Donald Trump hasn't held a news conference for three months, but he did take some questions in the spin room after the first debate.

The Clinton campaign has provided its traveling press corps with more access and logistical information than its rival’s team, though at times, the lack of a fully protective pool has been problematic. For instance, reporters weren’t apprised of Clinton’s whereabouts for 90 minutes after she became unsteady after a Sept. 11 event this year.

“That failure of transparency about Secretary Clinton’s whereabouts and condition created an unnecessary panic about her health situation that dominated the news cycle for days,” the WHCA’s board wrote in its letter to the Clinton campaign. “Having a protective pool would have remedied the kind of chaos and speculation that resulted from those events, which did not serve the public’s interest.”

Clinton national press secretary Brian Fallon emphasized in a statement that the campaign had improved press access and was open to conversations going forward.

“Since the convention, we have taken a number of steps to improve our traveling press corps’ ability to cover Hillary Clinton, but of course it is the job of news organizations to always press for greater access,” Fallon said. “We respect that, and intend to have continued conversations with them about the issues they have raised.”

Trump, whose actions during the 2016 election have been seen as an unprecedented threat to press freedom, does not fly to events with his traveling press corps, as had been customary of presidential nominees, and even mocked reporters when they were late to an event last month. His campaign didn’t notify the traveling press corps before the candidate flew to the second presidential debate. And while Clinton has taken questions a dozen times from traveling reporters in recent months, Trump has not held a news conference since July.

In a letter to the Trump campaign, the WHCA’s board wrote that its “concerns about transparency, access, and the timely flow of information from the presidential candidates are not limited to” the Republican nominee. However, the board noted that “the Trump campaign is lagging behind the level of press access provided by its Democratic counterpart.”

A Trump spokesman did not respond for comment.

The WHCA’s primary concern is coverage of the president, and it played only a limited role during press disputes involving the candidates. But while Trump and Clinton reporters have negotiated access with the campaigns during the election cycle, the WHCA traditionally picks up the role when it’s clear who’ll be the next president. The WHCA has hoped to establish a transition print pool from Nov. 9 through Jan. 19, the day before Inauguration Day.

Read the WHCA’s letters to the campaigns below:

This article has been updated with a comment from Clinton’s camp.

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