White House reporters complain about poor access to President Obama

Neil Munro White House Correspondent
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White House reporters squirmed with frustration this weekend when President Barack Obama’s aides repeatedly stiff-armed their attempts to follow him on his three-day Florida vacation and his golf outing with Tiger Woods.

The media’s frustration prompted a protest by the White House Correspondents Association, and a rapid slap-down by the White House’s press shop.

“A broad cross section of our members from print, radio, online and TV have today expressed extreme frustration to me about having absolutely no access to the President of the United States this entire weekend,” said a Feb. 17 statement from Ed Henry, a Fox News correspondent who is also the elected head of the WHCA.

“There is a very simple but important principle we will continue to fight for today and in the days ahead: transparency,” he said.

“The press access granted by the White House today is entirely consistent with the press access offered for previous presidential golf outings,” read the White House’s reply.

“It’s also consistent with the press access promised to the White House Press Corps prior to arrival in Florida on Friday evening.”

Republican activists and press flacks didn’t offer the reporters any sympathy.

Since 2009, the GOP’s efforts to track and publicize Obama’s activities and policies have been hampered by the White House’s wall of silence and by the established media’s lack of interest in reporting much news that is damaging or embarrassing to the administration.

GOP activists and legislators have long complained the media hasn’t pursued investigations into the White House’s “Operation Fast and Furious” gun-walking scandal or the administration’s failure to prosecute Democratic allies on Wall Street. (RELATED: Complete coverage of Operation Fast & Furious)

Similarly, they have complained about the established media’s lack of interest in the president’s passivity when jihadis attacked the Benghazi diplomatic site in September 2012, or Obama’s political calculations on spending, immigration and much else.

The media also got no support from President George W. Bush’s former press aides.

“If Pres O wants 2play golf w Tiger that’s his prerogative,” said Ari Fleischer, who served as President George W. Bush’s spokesman to a hostile press from January 2001 to July 2003.

“If he doesn’t want it on camera, that is his right. Sorry WH press.”

The administration normally imposes tight curbs over reporters’ access to the president and his aides in the White House.

For example, at the White House, reporters are confined to the press room and a few press offices behind the cameras. Sometimes, however, individual journalists or groups of reporters are escorted to officials’ offices elsewhere in the White House, or in other buildings in the compound.

Throughout Obama’s golf games at the private Floridian yacht and golf club, reporters were confined to a hotel or a bus near the entrance of the Florida golf course. Frustrated reporters ironically called their bus the “party bus.”

Obama’s aides argued that the president hadn’t actually left the sprawling compound to play golf, so there was no reason to allow the reporters to follow him.

The reporters’ frustrations were sharpened by their realization that a golf reporter had managed to discover and announce that Obama was on the course with golf-legend Tiger Woods.

“We got confirmation at 1:45 PM that POTUS had been hitting the links with Tiger Woods inside the ‘Floridian’ golf compound, 20 minutes away from the [press] pool hotel” where the press stayed, said an email to Obama’s aides from Tangi Quéméner, the White House correspondent for Agence France-Presse, who was serving as the pool reporter on Feb. 17.

The pool of reporters “has been aware since this morning that a reporter, Tim Rosaforte, had been tweeting and talking on the Golf Channel about the POTUS/Woods game from inside the compound,” Quéméner e-mailed Antoinette Rangel, one of Obama’s press aides.

“At 2:10 PM we logged a request to the White House for access to the President’s game for a photo-op, like this administration and previous ones have granted in the past,” read the 4.45 p.m. message.

“We were told that we … wouldn’t get access to POTUS … We reached the Floridian’s gates at 4:37 [and] we’re holding outside the compound.”

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