White House Correspondents' Association: 'We are not satisfied' about the state of briefings

The White House Correspondents' Association has met with Trump administration officials to take issue with the current state of briefings at the White House, according to a note sent to the association's members this morning from its president, Reuters White House correspondent Jeff Mason.

"Yesterday on behalf of the WHCA I had a meeting with Sean Spicer and Sarah Sanders to discuss the issue of White House briefings," the note read. "We had a long exchange of views about the subject, and each side expressed its thoughts and concerns about the current situation. The meeting was a follow-up to advocacy that board members and others have done over the last few weeks."

Over the last several months, the relationship between the press and the White House has curdled as the Trump administration has curtailed press briefings and held fewer on-the-record sessions. This week, CNN White House correspondent Jim Acosta questioned the wisdom of attending the briefings at all, saying the White House was "stonewalling" journalists.

Spicer and Sanders agreed to "consider" steps advocated by the White House Correspondents' Association to make briefings more open, according to Mason, including not replacing "on-camera briefings with 'gaggles,' not-for-broadcast question & answer sessions."

"Though they are useful and can play an important role in informing the press and the public, gaggles are not a substitute for the open back-and-forth between reporters and administration officials that regular televised briefings allow," Mason wrote.

The Correspondents' Association is "not satisfied with the current state-of-play," and will work to change it, he wrote.

"In the meantime, I have asked that reporters be able to use audio from all gaggles going forward. We will keep you posted as developments occur."

Here's the full note:

Dear members of the White House Correspondents’ Association:

Yesterday on behalf of the WHCA I had a meeting with Sean Spicer and Sarah Sanders to discuss the issue of White House briefings. We had a long exchange of views about the subject, and each side expressed its thoughts and concerns about the current situation. The meeting was a follow-up to advocacy that board members and others have done over the last few weeks.

The WHCA’s position on this issue is clear: we believe strongly that Americans should be able to watch and listen to senior government officials face questions from an independent news media, in keeping with the principles of the First Amendment and the need for transparency at the highest levels of government.

As you all know, the WHCA Board represents a diverse set of interests inside the press corps, including journalists who need video and sound to tell Americans what the government is doing in their name. So it is also with that in mind that we have urged the White House not to replace on-camera briefings with “gaggles,” not-for-broadcast question & answer sessions. Though they are useful and can play an important role in informing the press and the public, gaggles are not a substitute for the open back-and-forth between reporters and administration officials that regular televised briefings allow.

Sean and Sarah agreed to consider these positions, and the Board will follow up with them in the coming days. We are not satisfied with the current state-of-play, and we will work hard to change it. In the meantime, I have asked that reporters be able to use audio from all gaggles going forward. We will keep you posted as developments occur.

Best,

Jeff

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    Benjamin Mullin

    Benjamin Mullin is the managing editor of Poynter.org. He previously reported for Poynter as a staff writer, Google Journalism Fellow and Naughton Fellow, covering journalism innovation, business practices and ethics.

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