To share the high costs of covering the presidential campaign of Hillary Clinton, more than a dozen news organizations banded together to form a press pool — essentially a collaborative in which reporters from contributing organizations take turns shadowing the Democratic front-runner and sending back e-mailed reports of her every move. The whole idea rests upon the expectation that the Clinton campaign will provide access to the pool reporter.
That didn’t happen this morning.
David Martosko, U.S. political editor for the Daily Mail, sent an e-mail to his fellow pool participants early today alerting them to trouble on the trail: “Hillary pool report #1 — might be final for today,” noted Martosko in his first message. The pooler had shown up at 7:45 a.m. at the Puritan Backroom in Manchester ready for action. A press staffer with the New Hampshire Democratic Party told Martosko that he “wasn’t the approved print pool reporter for today’s pooled events.”
A subsequent pool report from Martosko summarized a conversation that he’d had with Clinton campaign spokesman Nick Merrill. Martosko writes of Merrill:
He offered varied and contradictory reasons for this decision.
First he confirmed that the concern had to do with the Daily Mail’s status as foreign press: “We’ve been getting a lot of blowback from foreign outlets that want to be part of the pool and we need to rethink it all, maybe for a day, and just cool things off until we can have a discussion.”
Your pool informed him that the Guardian is part of the pool, and that the pool doesn’t discriminate on the basis of media ownership.
He then said that the campaign’s position is that the Daily Mail doesn’t qualify because it hasn’t yet been added to the White House’s regular print pool – something the pool informed him was a timing issue, not a White House choice, since Francesca Chambers, our White House correspondent, has been vetted and has a hard pass.
“We’re just trying to follow the same process and system the White House has,” he said.
Merrill then insisted that the decision had “nothing to do” with the campaign considering the Daily Mail foreign press. “We don’t consider you foreign press,” he said.
It’s your pooler’s understanding that this was the only reason given last night when Nick sprung this on Ruby Cramer of Buzzfeed, who coordinates the pool.
Pool pointed out to Merrill that if the campaign is denying pool access to foreign press, but won’t take the position that the Daily Mail is foreign press, the position is untenable.
Then he said: “This isn’t about you. It’s about a larger –” and didn’t continue his sentence.
Merrill later insisted that his reasons were not based on the foreign-press question, but that the campaign simply wanted a day to “have a conversation” about how to proceed. “We’re going to make the decision,” he said, referring to choosing whether to give access to the designated print pooler.
Your pooler told Merrill that he seemed to be contradicting himself, and pointed out the murky situation of foreign ownership interests in several outlets in the pool.
He reiterated that the campaign could choose to decline pool coverage, and claimed that “it’s my understanding that the pool wasn’t sending a reporter today.” Your pooler informed him that “the pool sent me and I’m here,” and that the pool would show up at all the events today whether or not the campaign chose to grant access, and would request access each time.
He offered that this afternoon’s launch party, one of three calendared events for the day, “is open press, so there’s no issue with that one.”
The pool lodged one further objection and reminded him that the call was on the record since he’s a campaign spokesperson and there was no discussion about the on-off-background status of the call at any time.
As the morning progressed, Martosko chauffered himself around to the campaign’s stops. At 11:00 a.m, he issued “Pool report #5 — denied entry at the Rochester, NH event.” In this dispatch, Martosko describes how he was carefully denied access to an early childhood education event at the YMCA of Strafford County:
Secret Service at the main entrance refused to let your pooler in and advised to go in through another entrance near a playground. Visiting that doorway, another agent asked for your pooler’s name and outlet, to which the pool replied “David Martosko with The Daily Mail.” A voice from behind the door, whom your pool later learned was the head of Mrs. Clinton’s Secret Service detail, was heard saying “Oh. No.”
The Erik Wemple Blog placed the matter before Merrill in an e-mail, and the spokesman quickly replied: “We want a happy press corps as much as the press corps does. And we work very hard to achieve that in tandem with them. It’s a long campaign, and we are going to do our best to find equilibrium and best accommodate interest from as many news outlets as possible, given the space limitations of our events.”
Everyone in the campaign world understands space limitations — and those space limitations are precisely one of the reasons that the pool exists in the first place. Why not have one reporter chronicling the quotidian travels of a top candidate instead of 12 or 15 reporters doing the same? In any case, Martosko is part of a pool that includes outlets such as The Washington Post, the New York Times, Buzzfeed and others.
Martosko himself isn’t above adding a bit of media commentary to his work on the trail, as in this tweet from Saturday, following Clinton’s big speech:
It's truly astonishing how many journalists at the @Hillaryclinton speech today reported exactly, and only, what the campaign wanted them to
— David Martosko (@dmartosko) June 14, 2015
In landing at the Daily Mail, Martosko followed a colorful path. He formerly served as executive editor of the Daily Caller, a position in which he directed the outlet’s much-discredited reporting that Sen. Robert Menendez had romped with prostitutes on a trip to the Dominican Republic. And before that, he worked at the Center for Consumer Freedom, a nonprofit run by PR ace Richard Berman. In that position, Martosko used a phony Facebook account to gather dirt on animal-rights activists.
The Daily Mail has issued this statement on the matter:
“We can confirm that David Martosko, U.S. Political Editor, DailyMail.com was today denied access to Hillary Clinton’s campaign event and was prohibited from boarding a van that the Clinton campaign is using to transport pool reporters around New Hampshire. We are seeking an explanation from the Clinton campaign as to why this occurred as Mr. Martosko was scheduled to be the designated print pool reporter in New Hampshire this morning.”
Scott Wilson, deputy national editor of the Washington Post, expressed concern with the sequence of events. “Who participates in the pool should be decided by the news organizations, not the campaign, and there can be no selective exclusions based on outlet or individual once the pool is set,” notes Wilson in an e-mail. “The campaign’s rules should be clarified as soon as possible and shared with pool representatives so that what happened to David yesterday is not repeated.” When asked whether a backup pool reporter was allowed to hop on board after Martosko’s denial, Merrill responded, “Absolutely,” though the pool “declined.”
This post has been updated numerous times, given the rolling nature of the story.