White House reporters see the other side while campaigning for board spots

One candidate: CNN's Ed Henry is running unopposed for the "TV seat," but the battle is on for the "at large" spot.
One candidate: CNN's Ed Henry is running unopposed for the "TV seat," but the battle is on for the "at large" spot. (Matt Dornic)
By Jason Horowitz
Friday, July 2, 2010

Bloomberg reporter Hans Nichols used his time in the White House briefing room before press secretary Robert Gibbs's Tuesday afternoon spin session to do some politicking of his own.

"The basic issue for me is access," Nichols said as he crouched down next to Victoria Jones, a correspondent for Talk Radio News Service, and, of great consequence, an uncommitted voter in the White House Correspondents' Association. Nichols, dressed in crisp white shirt and blue power tie, spoke in confiding and confident terms about the injustice of White House correspondents' dinner seating arrangements, the need for "newsy" background meetings and early-morning gaggles, the disrespect shown toward the press by interminable delays.

"This is all in my statement," Nichols said.

"I liked your statement," Jones said.

"That's why you should vote for me," Nichols said, rising to his feet. "Plus, I'm charming."

The nation and its political media may be obsessed with the upcoming midterm elections, but a subset of the reporters who cover President Obama are also focused on a different contest: their own.

At 4 p.m. July 15, final ballots are due to determine the new board members of the White House Correspondents' Association, a group formed in 1914 for "the promotion of the interests of those reporters and correspondents assigned to cover the White House."

Candidates are building coalitions, navigating the front-row/back-row politics of the press corps, waging full-scale campaigns to win the votes of 220 voting members. They have talking points, surrogates and political enemies. They even have press coverage. ("Helen Thomas departure complicates race for White House correspondent's board," read a headline on a June 8 Daily Caller story.)

A precarious point

This year's race comes at a particularly precarious juncture for the struggling citizenry of the White House press corps. Not only has the briefing room's relevance dropped to an all-time low in the age of electronic media and Obama message control, but the unceremonious departure of Thomas has prompted a battle between leading media moguls to fill her front-and-center seat.

As the candidates struggle through these political minefields, the White House is thoroughly enjoying the role reversal.

"We're staying out of it," deputy press secretary Bill Burton said as he kicked up his feet and grinned in his office. "We think the voters should decide."

The candidates are Ed Henry, the CNN anchor with perfectly parted politician hair, who is running for the uncontested "TV seat." Time's Michael Scherer, the last magazine reporter to regularly attend the daily briefings, is running for the uncontested "Magazine seat." ("An issue with the ballots," he said, has nevertheless caused him consternation. "There is no box next to my name.")

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