Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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January 22, 2009

DON'T JUMP IN THE POOL.... It's impractical for every major media outlets to have a staffer trailing the president at all times, so pool reports were invented. They're quick and informal accounts written by White House correspondents for other media professionals. While they're important to journalists and widely read, in general, news consumers (i.e., the public) never see them.

The Obama White House apparently hoped to change this, and set aside part of the White House website to publish pool reports. Alas, that's not going to happen -- reporters won't let them.

Jennifer Loven of the Associated Press, the president of the WHCA, said everyone is in agreement that "pool reports are the media's product, not the White House's, and can't be a regular part of their Web site."

"The White House has told me that is their view, too, and it was never their intention to post pool reports on a permanent basis," Loven said.

Why does it matter if pool reports are made public? In short, because covering the president around-the-clock is expensive -- and pool reports belong to the news organizations funding the coverage. News organizations also want to be able to control the integrity and the use of their products. That is especially true on domestic and foreign trips, the costs of which are determined by how many reporters travel because they split the cost. If all news organizations could simply look up the pool reports online instead of paying to travel with the president, it could create a disincentive for some news outlets to actually go, thus raising costs for those organizations providing the news.

That's a fairly reasonable explanation, but how about running the pool reports a day or two later?

Either way, it's an unusual dynamic -- the White House is so committed to transparency, news professionals believe the president's team is going too far.

Steve Benen 2:45 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (30)

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Either way, it's an unusual dynamic -- the White House is so committed to transparency, news professionals believe the president's team is going too far.

That's not unusual at all. The whole journalism business is about having access to things that other people are willing to pay you to see/read about/listen to. Total transparency mixed with easy access is a recipe for lower ratings/paper buys.

In other words - if I can get it straight from the source relatively cheaply off the Internet, why should I pay extra to have a newspaper edit the same source material and provide it to me a day later? From a business angle, I can see transparency and access actually being at odds with newspapers' best interests.

Posted by: NonyNony on January 22, 2009 at 2:57 PM | PERMALINK

The White House publishing its own pool reports is NOT transparency. What are you, a fool?

Posted by: optical weenie on January 22, 2009 at 2:58 PM | PERMALINK

This is particularly foolish given how often these pool reports are leaking out on the Internet these days.

Posted by: The Pop View on January 22, 2009 at 3:02 PM | PERMALINK

"News organizations also want to be able to control the integrity and the use of their products."

An alternate way of looking at this, is that they control the message to send to their readers.

If someone external to these 'news organizations' (say the White House, or a blogger) were to publish the pool report after these 'news organizations' publish their reports, and that same someone were to note any errors, distortions, or discrepancies (intentional or otherwise), it would be a metric that could be used on a regular basis to track their coverage effectiveness.

I'm guessing most corporate media outfits wouldn't want that being tracked, because over time, it would likely reveal how much misinformation they actually spread to their bases.

Eventually their readers would get sick of being duped, and these companies would go out of business.

Imagine if a group like Media Matters were to have access to such pool reports ....

Posted by: Mathew on January 22, 2009 at 3:02 PM | PERMALINK

Blogger Pool! will cooperate.

Posted by: fuzed on January 22, 2009 at 3:08 PM | PERMALINK

If the WH is going to go "too far", I'd prefer that they go too far in this direction.

Posted by: Allan Snyder on January 22, 2009 at 3:12 PM | PERMALINK

COuldn't the White House just post their own pool-type report? Hire someone--er, me!--to write 'quick and informal accounts'?

Posted by: gussie on January 22, 2009 at 3:15 PM | PERMALINK

"control the integrity and use"

Some of the vapid talking teevee heads would look pretty silly if their Rove bullet points were seen side by side with the WH pool reports, wouldn't they. That's not the kind of propaganda catapulting Ailes and Murdoch are paying for now, is it.

Posted by: melior on January 22, 2009 at 3:17 PM | PERMALINK

This is a lot like when Accu-Weather sued to stop the National Weather Service from publishing its reports and tried to muzzle the various weather-researching universities, because it cut into their business model. Who care? The White House should set up a webcam on the press room and just leave it running.

I think the idea of a one or two day delay would be fine. There is little value to the press after a day has passed, but politics junkies and watchdogs would find it really informative.

Posted by: Bernard HP Gilroy on January 22, 2009 at 3:27 PM | PERMALINK

I'm guessing that many reporters don't want the pool reports printed because they don't want readers to see how much of that very expensive reporting is just copied from the pool reports.

Posted by: Outis on January 22, 2009 at 3:30 PM | PERMALINK

The only reason it 'costs' too much to report on the President and what's happening in Washington is because infotainment has to pay the bloated salaries of brainless morons whose major job qualification is that they are loud.

Posted by: doubtful on January 22, 2009 at 3:30 PM | PERMALINK

So.. Basically FOX and the like want to get first crack at the news so they can put their sickening spin on it rather than let people hear directly from their government. Makes sense in a Max Hedrom kind of way.

Posted by: Tawanda on January 22, 2009 at 3:52 PM | PERMALINK

The reports are the news organizations property. They ought to be able to control their use for as long as copyright lasts.

For daily news copyright ought to last about two weeks.

Posted by: JeffF on January 22, 2009 at 3:52 PM | PERMALINK

Steve, we'd see how much dicking around, kowtowing and general arrogance much of the MSM exhibits; that's why nobody wants pool reports up.

The Fourth Estate would consider it lese-majestie to reveal this.

Posted by: SocraticGadfly on January 22, 2009 at 4:03 PM | PERMALINK

The White House should set up a webcam on the press room and just leave it running.

I'll second that. It could be modeled after C-SPAN so we can get our info without listening to morons like David Gregory.

Posted by: Winkandanod on January 22, 2009 at 4:41 PM | PERMALINK

When has the national press ever given a shit about the quality of the information it provides to citizens?

These people sold us a massive war that is still going on, they sold us human torture, they sold us massive civilian spying ...

The AP won't even use the word "torture" in a story about the investigation of ... torture !!!

Posted by: Douglas Watts on January 22, 2009 at 5:09 PM | PERMALINK

"I'm guessing that many reporters don't want the pool reports printed because they don't want readers to see how much of that very expensive reporting is just copied from the pool reports."

Most pool reports are indeed pretty damn boring, "president ate bagel, went to gym." And sometimes, hell, frequently---people have pages to fill and write boring stories based off them about the president's gym routine or love of onion bagels and what that says about his morning breath. But the point of having a pool is not that you need to have someone there to watch the president do the stairmaster. It's that you need to have someone there if the president should fall off the stairmaster and break his neck. You're basically paying someone to sit there for hours doing not bloody much. It's like fireman.

Posted by: C. on January 22, 2009 at 5:10 PM | PERMALINK

"News organizations also want to be able to control the integrity and the use of their products."

Their "products" have no journalistic integrity.

cf. 2000-2008.


Posted by: Douglas Watts on January 22, 2009 at 5:11 PM | PERMALINK

I can see multiple sides of this.

The White House wants to get past the filter. The WH'hos like the pool reports for in-jokes and "your pool was bored" asides. It's their version of passing around notes in class, or like having a private PrezBlog.

Their bosses don't like having the raw stuff available, because it destroys the fiction that they're not paraphrasing the pool.

Posted by: pseudonymous in nc on January 22, 2009 at 5:12 PM | PERMALINK

What are you, a fool?

Yikes, somebody's having a bad inauguration week. Actually, a bad year.

I can see multiple sides of this. The White House wants to get past the filter. The WH'hos like the pool reports for in-jokes and "your pool was bored" asides. It's their version of passing around notes in class, or like having a private PrezBlog. Their bosses don't like having the raw stuff available, because it destroys the fiction that they're not paraphrasing the pool.

All of that, and the business concerns others brought up, too.

Posted by: shortstop on January 22, 2009 at 5:24 PM | PERMALINK

If the White House is releasing these reports, I don't see how they belong to the media at all.

Posted by: dontcallmefrancis on January 22, 2009 at 5:29 PM | PERMALINK

But the point of having a pool is not that you need to have someone there to watch the president do the stairmaster. It's that you need to have someone there if the president should fall off the stairmaster and break his neck. You're basically paying someone to sit there for hours doing not bloody much. It's like fireman.

And this is the excuse for why nobody can afford to actually ... you know ... do actual competent news reporting on the actual doings of government. All the money has been used to ensure immediate coverage the President slipping on an icy walk.

Is this really the final answer our Pulitzer Prize aspiring acolytes want to go with?


Posted by: Douglas Watts on January 22, 2009 at 5:32 PM | PERMALINK

I guess they figure they're losing enough business to the internet.
Me? Let me have it even if it is a couple of days later. Why would I watch or read some
f@$%!ng nitwit interpret what the White House people say when I can read it for myself?

Posted by: c u n d gulag on January 22, 2009 at 6:49 PM | PERMALINK

A lot of pool reports are leaked to FishbowlDC so it's not that they are sacred documents or anything. FBDC is kind of a fanboy site for journos, they giggle and gush feverishly and publish pictures of parties and report on the gossip of who is going where and doing what. They are really over the top with Luke Russert and spent about two months mourning Tim's death, so that should give you an idea.

These pool reporters are not being paid by the WH, they are paid by the news organizations, and the "pool" is that each participating news organization takes a turn on pool duty. It isn't taxpayer money at all.

As for the pool reports, they vary in quality. Some are pretty hilarious actually and most try to be informative. But I can see their point, they are not the product of the White House, they are the product of the news organizations. And the news organizations are not obligated to be transparent.

Posted by: James on January 22, 2009 at 7:00 PM | PERMALINK

Shortstop,
What would you have said if the Bush WH decided to publish the pool reports?

I don't care who is in the WH. I don't want the WH publishing stuff that is supposed to be independent of the WH. Otherwise we end up being like China, Russia, North Korea, etc.

Posted by: optical weenie on January 22, 2009 at 7:14 PM | PERMALINK

Oh, it's not that I disagree with you, weenie (as should have been obvious from my post). It's just that everyone else here said it so much more...sanely.

Posted by: shortstop on January 22, 2009 at 7:50 PM | PERMALINK

Why do we all get together and higher a blogger to do it then have THEM release the reports?

Posted by: MNPundit on January 22, 2009 at 9:19 PM | PERMALINK

"Why do we all get together and higher a blogger to do it then have THEM release the reports?"

I REALLY like this idea!

Posted by: Miro on January 22, 2009 at 10:29 PM | PERMALINK

You know, the White House press corps is looking very much like mid-level record executives when they first heard of Napster. No, no, we'll sue the Internet out of existence! They are such tiny men, worried about their tiny and diminishing status.

The big worry will be that people will get their news from Whitehouse.gov. If they published something that kept the average adult awake, it wouldn't be so bad. But they're just malicious gossips.

Posted by: Jim H on January 23, 2009 at 2:28 AM | PERMALINK

"And this is the excuse for why nobody can afford to actually ... you know ... do actual competent news reporting on the actual doings of government."

No, the excuse for that is that it's boring. The president of the United States is pretty much the single most powerful and influential individual in the entire world. Pretty much every thing he does has huge ripple effects, and if something bad happens to him, it affects the entire geopolitical order. If anyone deserves 24-7 coverage --- coverage in the sense of having someone there at all time to report --- then it's him. It's not wrong nor wasteful to provide that, and in fact, the pool helps save money in that sense, since normally in a competitive environment where people are disinclined to share info with competitors, you'd have several reporters being paid full time to watch the president eat bagels and do the stairmaster.

Plus---and this a not inconsiderable factor---people care. People want to know. Because of all the reasons above, and because they president is a figure of great symbolic importance. If a news organization were to choose between covering the White House and covering the Department of Health and Human Services, of course they're going to pick the White House. People care more, people watch more, and it's more important.

Posted by: C. on January 23, 2009 at 10:49 AM | PERMALINK




 

 

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