A NOTE TO MEMBERS (9/22/14)
Thanks to everyone who helped get the congressional picnic open to full pool coverage last week. Several people were involved, and I'd like to take a moment of your workday to explain how they did what they did.
Alerted by Jon Garcia and Wes Barrett, board member Margaret Talev was the first to ask questions about the closed-press event on the schedule as she began her Duty Officer duties last weekend. (Under our new practice, a different WHCA board member is on duty each week to stay on top of the president's schedule and to advocate for press access every day.) She was able to get the print pool included by the time the schedule went out to the fuller press corps.
She alerted the rest of the board on Tuesday that the photojournalists were not yet included, and board members Jeff Mason and Doug Mills immediately began pressing the case from their position in the traveling pool. Major Garrett wrote an eloquent letter to Josh Earnest. And several members raised the question individually with the press office, notably print pooler Steven Dennis.
In the end, the right thing happened -- the full pool was admitted. And with the practice now affirmed both by the press corps and the press office, we have reason to believe it will be easier to make the case on similar events in the near future. The full board underscored that in its monthly meeting with Josh at the end of the week.
I can name several other successes over the past two months as the Duty Officer rotation has hit its stride. Carol Lee got the White House to admit the full pool to the Rose Garden one afternoon to watch the president at work. With that groove cut, we got a repeat performance a few weeks later. Several events have gone from closed-press to full pool. Diplomatically pushing back against the exclusion of the print pool from a photo spray on the road last week, Jeff Mason helped get an expanded pool into the very next photo spray.
As you all know, we are working on putting a fuller set of practices in writing, in the hopes of protecting and preserving them for this press corps and for the journalists who come after us. More than 40 members have contributed their ideas to this document, and our conversations are continuing. We hope that this exercise will help us better understand the standards we all think are important and to push for them as a group.
Still, no matter what kind of progress we make on that front, your vigilance is critical to our constant push for greater access and openness.
It's one thing to complain around the press room. It's much more effective to join our voices together in a thoughtful, persuasive call for what we believe is right and fair.
That's what you did this week, and things went just a little bit better because you did.
Thanks to all.
A NOTE TO MEMBERS (9/15/14)
I want to let you know about a breakthrough I think we've had with the White House on the AF One travel bills. As many of you know, our bills for air travel spiked wildly starting with trips taken in February.
When those bills rolled in, we asked some questions, and things started happening. Josh Earnest launched a review, which turned up more information than I'd ever seen before about how the bills are put together. And then last week he presented a new formula to us, along with a plan to recalculate all of the bills for trips starting in mid-February.
The new formula says press travel with the president or vice president will be calculated “at the lowest available fare that is unrestricted, fully refundable, and available for purchase by the general public." Reimbursement will be based on fares available between 7 - 14 days in advance of travel.
As it turns out, the old standard simply said "full coach fare" and that allowed for a whole range of choices by the folks in the military office who were doing the bills.
As of now, the White House Travel Office is taking over the calculations from the military office. They propose to recalculate all bills issued since Feb. 14 and to issue new invoices for all travel since that date. Refunds will be issued for those who paid the old bills, beginning as early as today.
The travel office hopes to finish sending out new bills by the end of October.
Here's one sign of how the formula will change things: the February trip to California will go from the roughly $17,000 previously billed to about $3,500.
Other recalculations will look like this:
Miami, March 20
Pittsburgh, April 16
Initial invoice: $2001
New York, May 15
Initial invoice: $2194
Chicago, May 23
Initial invoice: $3587
Though the White House says it wasn't their intent to lower costs for us, but rather to provide the transparency and predictability that we had asked for, it looks to us like the costs will improve not just when compared to the period of the cost spikes but also when compared to the pre-spike period.
Here's how that looks to us:
Chicago, IL to JBA
5/30/2013 – $1461.00 per person
4/2/2014 – $1469.00 per person
5/23/2014 – $3587.00 per person
5/23/2014 (updated fare) – $1162.00 per person
Palm Springs, CA to JBA
6/9/2013 – $1811.00 per person
2/17/2014 – $7051.00 per person
2/17/2014 (updated fare) – $1323.00 per person
Miami, FL to JBA
6/12/2013 – $1228.00 per person
3/20/2014 – $4540.00 per person
3/20/2014 (updated fare) – $1049.00 per person
New York, NY to JBA
10/25/2013 – $865.00 per person
5/15/2014 – $2194.00 per person
5/15/2014 (updated fare) – $728.00 per person
Pittsburgh, PA to JBA
7/6/2012 – $982.00 per person
4/16/2014 – $2001.00 per person
4/16/2014 (updated fare) – $1138.00 per person
Any member of the WHCA board can go on at length about the process that got us to this point. If you want lots of detail about how it works, ask me or Todd Gillman, a longtime traveler who has been raising this issue for years and then joined in the talks after he was elected to the board this summer.
If you have specific questions, please direct them to us first to see if we can handle them. We'd like to keep the travel office free to get these bills out as quickly as they can.
In the meantime, I hope any of you who were thinking about dropping out of the traveling pool because of the wild spikes will reconsider that idea. Your part in the pool process is critical, and the loss of even one news org would be a huge detriment.
July 9, 2014 - WHCA Election Results
Jeff Mason, Reuters
Jeff Mason, Reuters
Todd Gillman, Dallas Morning News
Doug Mills, New York Times
MAY 3, 2014
Visit our 2014 DINNER page for complete coverage of the #WHCD. Links available on that hub page connect to this year's slideshow, the awards and scholarships pages, and the C-SPAN video of the arrivals, awards and scholarship presentations, followed by President Obama's remarks, and the after-dinner entertainment segment presented by Joel McHale. The WHCA Centennial film, produced in collaboration with A+E, is available on our HISTORY page.
Photo/J.M. Eddins Jr.
READ PRIOR NEWS ENTRIES IN OUR ARCHIVE
President and Mrs. Obama walking down Pennsylvania Avenue during the 2009 inaugural parade. Photo: Doug Mills, New York Times.
WHCA℠ OFFICERS 2014-2015
President: Christi Parsons, Tribune Company; at-large 7/15/15
Vice President: Carol Lee, Wall Street Journal; at-large 7/15/16
Secretary: Scott Horsley, NPR; radio 7/15/15
Treasurer: Margaret Talev, Bloomberg News; wire 7/15/15
WHCA℠ Board Members 2014-2015
Major Garrett, CBS News; television 7/15/16
Olivier Knox, Yahoo! News; periodicals 7/15/16
Doug Mills, The New York Times; photographer 7/15/17
Todd Gillman, Dallas Morning News; newspaper 7/15/17
Jeff Mason, Reuters; at-large 7/15/17
George Lehner, Pepper Hamilton
Steven Thomma, McClatchy; emeritus 7/15/15
WHCA Executive Director
NEWS BLOGS AND LINKS
Several White House Correspondents' Association℠ members regularly blog about presidential coverage, delivering some of the most colorful White House stories anywhere. Here are links to a few of the most popular White House press corps blogs.
Mike Allen, Politico Playbook
Mark Silva, Chicago Tribune