Racial Data Sought for Bush Event
Friday, April 29, 2005
The Secret Service has requested racial information on journalists and guests scheduled to attend a reception tomorrow night with President Bush.
White House reporters said they were offended that after furnishing the customary information -- name, date of birth and Social Security number -- they were also asked for the race of each person expected to attend the small reception scheduled before the White House Correspondents' Association's annual dinner.
The Secret Service said that it has been routine for many years to request such information of people who will be near the president, and that the information allows for quicker and more accurate searches of criminal databases. The policy has not been applied universally, however; such information is not requested of the people who greet the president and first lady at White House Christmas parties, for example, and is not always asked of people who have appointments in the White House complex.
After officers of the White House Correspondents' Association provided the Secret Service with names, dates of birth and Social Security numbers of those who would attend the VIP reception, an agent called back to ask for racial identities. "It's offensive on the face of it," said Edwin Chen, a Los Angeles Times White House reporter who is secretary of the association and who provided the information. "Why do they need to have race?"
Knight Ridder reporter Ron Hutcheson, the association's president, said. "I just don't understand the need for it. There may be one, but I don't know what it is."
A spokesman for the Secret Service, Lorie Lewis, said it is routine for the agency to request all five main "identifiers" used in the FBI's National Crime Information Center database: name, birth date, Social Security number, sex and race. If all five were not requested before, "it may have been a mistake or an omission," she said.
Lewis said the request has nothing to do with racial profiling. "The Secret Service does not and will not tolerate racial or cultural bias," she said. "The standard background checks are not designed to profile individuals involved with the event. Rather, it provides for a more thorough and timely search of the national law enforcement databases."
A White House official from the Clinton administration said race was not a field in the form it used to clear visitors into the executive mansion. A Bush White House spokesman referred calls to the Secret Service.
The agency has become more rigorous in all aspects of security since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. White House correspondents are not always subject to the same security measures as the public because agents know the journalists.
Anecdotal evidence suggests the Secret Service is more frequently asking for racial information from journalists. The Arizona Daily Star complained last year after a Bush-Cheney campaign official, on Secret Service instruction, called to ask for a photographer's race before she was allowed to photograph Vice President Cheney.
Also last year, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported that journalists covering a presidential debate there were asked to disclose their race on a media credential application. In October, the Rocky Mountain News reported that journalists covering a Bush appearance in Colorado were asked to provide race and gender. And last month, the Orange County Register reported that Cheney's staff requested race and gender information before the vice president would meet with the newspaper's editorial board.
Officials from the White House Correspondents' Association had conflicting recollections about whether the racial information had been requested for past receptions.