Obama Speaks Off The Record After White House Press Corps 'Frustration'

President Obama speaks to reporters off the record, a day after White House press corps expressed "frustration" with their lack of access.
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President Barack Obama speaks to reporters about the fiscal cliff in the Brady Press Briefing Room at the White House in Washington, Friday, Dec. 21, 2012. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)
President Barack Obama speaks to reporters about the fiscal cliff in the Brady Press Briefing Room at the White House in Washington, Friday, Dec. 21, 2012. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)

A day after the White House press corps expressed "extreme frustration" in not getting access to cover President Obama's golf weekend, which included an outing Sunday with Tiger Woods, the president met with the White House pool aboard Air Force One. The conversation, however, was off the record.

The Washington Post's Scott Wilson, who was serving as pool reporter on Monday evening, thereby writing reports used by the press corps not on board, noted the exchange in a report filed just before 8 p.m.

"AF1 wheels down Andrews at 7:45pm. POTUS came back to have a 10-minute off the record talk with pool at the end of the flight," Wilson wrote.

So did Obama come back to offer an olive branch?

Given that the conversation was off the record, Wilson cannot discuss specifics. But Wilson told The Huffington Post on Monday night that Obama "did not come back with a message in mind."

"He didn't come back because he had to tell us something," Wilson said. "He came back to hang out."

That suggests Obama wasn't there to apologize, but instead to casually talk to reporters on board. Obama doesn't often mix it up with reporters, but he has headed to the back of the cabin on previous occasions to chat with reporters off the record.

Obama hasn't given an on-the-record interview to the Washington Post since 2009, while last sitting down with the New York Times in 2010. So should the White House press corps, which has long complained about access and lack of interviews, allow the White House to set the ground rules?

Wilson explained that if reporters decide not to accept the ground rules, its unlikely Obama will head back there at all. If reporters do, then they'll have the opportunity to get a few minutes with the president, an exchange that may inform their reporting going forward.

However, the president won't be held accountable for any of his words and the lucky pool reporter -- as well as the rest of the press corps -- won't be able to report anything discussed.

Wilson said the situation is "not ideal at all," but noted that "the choice is not seeing him at all or seeing him for 10, 15 minutes off the record." So Wilson, and his colleagues on board, opted for the latter.

"In general, if someone is presented with an opportunity to talk to the president off the record, it's a balancing act," Ed Henry, a Fox News correspondent and president of the White House Correspondents Association, told The Huffington Post. "Some people think that's a really bad idea. Some people think it's a really valuable way to get information about what somebody's thinking -- whether a mayor, Congressman, Senator, or president."

Henry said the WHCA doesn't have a policy "condoning" or "banning" off the record interviews with the president, but allows individual news organizations to decide whether or not to agree to the ground rules.

As for the tension playing out between the White House and press corps this past weekend, Henry said that WHCA's concern is not over a golf game, but about getting at least a "minimal level of access" when following the president around the country and the world. The golf game, Henry said, was "just something that is symbolic of a broader fight."

The golf game was still on the mind of some reporters as the president returned to the White House on Monday night, according to a pool report filed by the Daily News' Joseph Straw.

The president emerged from the helicopter a couple minutes later wearing a white shirt, dark green slacks and a long black coat. He smiled and waved to reporters as he strode toward the South Portico.

As the president walked close by, a group of reporters yelled, in unison, "Did you beat Tiger?!?" He appeared to hear over the helicopter engines, but just smiled and continued on inside.

The president's return was open-press.

This post was updated at 10:09 pm after speaking with Ed Henry.

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