There's no story on TV news people like better than an angry squabble within the top staff at the White House. Yesterday there was an angry squabble among top people at the White House, all right -- but the fighting was among the TV news people, and the result could put a serious crimp in the networks' White House television coverage.
The dispute began in May when Cable News Network (CNN) went to court demanding that it be included, along with ABC, CBS and NBC, in rotating assignments to the daily "pool" -- the small group of reporters that follows the president wherever he goes. Justice Department lawyers handling the case advised the White House to get out of the pool-assigning business. So the press office announced that, beginning today, the TV networks themselves would have to decide whose reporters and cameramen would make up each day's pool.
A furious round of letters, phone calls and telegrams ensued -- but nothing approaching agreement. Yesterday each of the four battling networks nominated its own five-person crew for today's pool. The press office, faced with 20 names for five slots, beat a tactful retreat: it said there will be no pool television coverage today, and none any day until the networks stop fighting.
The networks immediately went to court for a temporary restraining order to block that decree. That was still pending early last night. Without a pool, TV can only "open" news events -- normally the scripted media happenings staged by the White House to show the president in the best light.