White House diktat could revoke hundreds of reporters' press passes

Source: Washington Examiner | March 18, 2019 | Steven Nelson

Hundreds of journalists risk losing their White House press pass under a newly announced White House policy, though most would still be able to cover the West Wing.

The policy, included in a weekend email to reporters by White House press secretary Sarah Sanders, would limit the number of people who can easily breeze past Secret Service to cover the White House in person on a moment’s notice.

Sanders wrote that annual renewal processes for the badge, known as a “hard pass,” would include reviewing of electronic records to ensure reporters visited the White House on 50 percent of days — something few do.

“A hard pass will not be renewed for any journalist whose badge-in records show that he or she was not present in the complex for at least 90 days in the 180-day window prior to expiration of the pass,” Sanders said, claiming discretion to exempt “senior journalists serving as bureau chiefs or in a similar capacity” and “to review special circumstances, such as maternity leave.”

Those without a hard pass must request a “day pass” beforehand, and then show a Secret Service agent a photo ID and press pass, as well as confirm their Social Security number. On days where there is a briefing or major event, the day pass line is clogged with confused newcomers, student journalists, and members of the foreign press.

The new announcement was coupled with directions to seek six-month “day pass” approval, available for journalists covering the White House 60 days in a 180-day period.

As laid forth in the email, the 50 percent rule doesn’t consider that reporters are often out for weekends, vacations, campaign-trail reporting, or presidential trips abroad. Many outlets, concerned journalists said, rotate reporters from the bureau to the White House to work from their small West Wing desks.

The 50 percent policy technically isn’t new. In February 2017, the White House sent guidance to bureau chiefs saying that “to obtain a hard pass, you must cover the White House at least 50% of the time.” But that communication wasn’t shared with all journalists and was not specific about how and whether the policy would be enforced.

The new guidance was the talk of White House workspaces Monday, with alarmed journalists saying strict enforcement could ensnare even reporters who regularly attend briefings and other events, giving Sanders leeway to decide who keeps their pass.

“My inbox is clogged with questions and concerns from members of the press corps who cover the White House all the time and are certain they would not meet the threshold described in this policy,” said Todd Gillman, a White House Correspondents’ Association board member.

“The concerns are pretty much universal in the press corps,” said Gillman, Washington bureau chief of The Dallas Morning News. “As far as I can tell, most reporters would be at risk of losing their hard passes and with that, the ability to cover news on short notice — and short notice is a staple of the White House beat.”


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