The White House Correspondents’ Association typically keeps a low profile in its discussions with the White House press secretary over issues involving the news media. It tends not to wade into controversy, at least not in public.
But faced with the president’s continued hostility and confronted by false official statements, the two candidates vying to become president of the group want to take a bolder — and more confrontational — approach.
“We as an organization need to be more concerned about getting lied to as a matter of course — and the American public getting lied to, through us — than about access,” HuffPost correspondent S.V. Date wrote in an email touting his candidacy to the WHCA’s 425 voting members.
He added, “I’ve been in this business more than three decades, and what’s happening now is unprecedented. We are attacked on a near daily basis using Stalinist language. We are called corrupt and dishonest. We are given false information from staff who often know full well that it is false.”
CBS News Radio reporter Steven Portnoy, 38, uses less explosive language in his pitch for support but makes clear his disappointment that the White House hasn’t held a press briefing in a record 93 days as of Wednesday.
Ticking off a long list of news stories that have transpired in that time (for example, “Pelosi-Schumer talks implode as Pelosi accuses Trump of ‘cover up’ ”), Portnoy wrote: “As the president continues to call news organizations ‘corrupt,’ these are just some of the issues he has ducked by not having his aides appear regularly before the press corps.”
The two journalists’ statements suggest that the White House press corps has grown more frustrated — and is willing to say so publicly — after more than two years of disparagement by Trump and press secretary Sarah Sanders. (A third candidate, Washington Post reporter Toluse Olorunnipa, declared his candidacy on Wednesday but hasn’t announced proposals yet).
Date said he decided to run for a leadership position in the organization, best known for its annual dinner, after reading special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s report of his investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election. He specifically cited the passage in which Mueller concluded that Sanders had lied in telling reporters at a briefing last year that Trump enjoyed wide support among FBI employees for his firing of Director James B. Comey.
“I’m certainly not the only one who thinks [lying] is an issue,” he said on Wednesday. “It seems over the last several months, over the past year, we haven’t really talked about it” as an organization. “I think we have a right not to have a paid employee of the executive branch lie to us.”
Date, 55, said that he isn’t sure exactly what he would do to confront the administration but that in the wake of the Mueller report, he would have pushed for a collective statement from the WHCA expressing its disapproval.
“I don’t know if it would have done any good at all,” he said. “But we shouldn’t just shrug and move on.”
The WHCA’s current president, Olivier Knox of SiriusXM radio, had no comment when asked whether the organization has had any discussions with the White House about false statements. Sanders did not respond to a request for comment.
The WHCA traditionally has not addressed specific statements by White House officials. Its discussions typically involve questions of access to the president — when, where and how the dozens of White House beat reporters can question him. These discussions usually are not made public, although the organization filed a friend-of-the-court brief last fall on behalf of CNN reporter Jim Acosta when the White House yanked his press credential after a heated exchange between him and Trump at a news conference.
A longtime member of the group said the WHCA at times has argued that changes in White House policy would be mutually beneficial, both promoting the president’s credibility and greater press access. But this member — who asked not to be named, because he wasn’t authorized to speak for the group — said he was not aware of any discussion about statements by White House officials.
Coincidentally, the question that prompted one of Sanders’s false responses about the FBI was asked by Portnoy last year at a briefing. But he stopped short of endorsing Date’s view of calling out the administration’s credibility. “I don’t see that in the [WHCA’s] bylaws,” he said. “I feel the public will decide these things. My job is to provide listeners with the facts to reach the proper conclusion.”