Note to White House: Don’t meddle with press pools

Friday, May 20, 2011

The Boston Herald — a conservative newspaper often critical of the White House and many Democrats — was not included on May 18 in a local “pool” of reporters with closer access than most for a President Obama fundraising event in Boston.

The White House’s official line is that the Herald got “bumped” because a Boston Globe reporter was part of the traveling press corps, thereby providing for hometown reporting. But the Herald claims it got less access to the visit because on the day of a presidential visit in March, the paper had printed a critical op-ed piece by potential Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney.

The Herald and other news organizations reported an e-mail from White House spokesman Matt Lehrich that said although pool assignments in this instance had already been made by a correspondents’ association, Lehrich tended to view such coverage decisions partly in terms of how “regularly and fairly” a newspaper reports on the administration.

“I tend to consider the degree to which papers have demonstrated to covering the White House regularly and fairly in determining local pool reporters,” Lehrich said, according to news accounts on Mediaite and elsewhere.

Lehrich also noted that the paper’s front page in March touted the Romney piece while ignoring the Obama visit.

There’s nothing in the First Amendment that gives government officials, high or low, the authority to ban news operations from reporting on presidential visits because the resulting accounts likely won’t be “fair.” And freedom of the press makes no mention of a “presidential editor in chief” actively punishing journalists for unfriendly front-page decisions.

Including one’s sharpest critics may not be required of most hosts and hostesses, but it goes with the keys to the Oval Office, and with any other public office.

MSNBC’s Lawrence O’Donnell may well have offered the best advice to the White House: “The Boston Herald doesn’t like you,” he said in a recent broadcast. “Get used to it.”

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