Donald Trump’s inaugural committee will break with long precedent and restrict access to two of his official celebrations to pool press coverage only, cutting out journalists who want to report on the events on their own, without official minders.
The two officially sanctioned inaugural balls, scheduled for Friday night at the Washington Convention Center, will be “pool only,” which means that only a handful of reporters and photographers will be allowed in when Trump appears after he is sworn in as president. The reporters will be under the direction of Trump press staffers, and their time and movement within the building will be at the Trump staff’s discretion.
Separately, the Trump International Hotel in Washington said it was barring journalists from its grounds during inauguration week, according to Politico. The Trump Organization manages the hotel under a lease from the federal government, which owns the property on Pennsylvania Avenue a few blocks from the White House.
Pool reporters provide written dispatches, photos and audio and video recordings that are shared with other journalists who aren’t at an event. Pools are typically used when a larger number of journalists can’t be accommodated at a presidential event because of space or security concerns.
The official inaugural balls, which draw thousands of guests, have historically been “open press” events, meaning any reporter could cover them, subject to security screening.
The Presidential Inaugural Committee (PIC) gave no explanation for the restrictive press policy. In a terse email, Boris Epshteyn, PIC’s communications director, wrote, “Pool for the two Inaugural Balls and Open Press for Armed Services.” The latter refers to an inaugural celebration in honor of the U.S. military that will be held at the National Building Museum on Friday. Trump, Vice President-elect Mike Pence and their wives are scheduled to attend all three.
Epshteyn did not respond to follow-up questions.
The convention center has been the site of presidential balls since it opened in 2003. Reporters had open access to inaugural events held there previously. Their movement has usually been unrestricted, but President George W. Bush’s second inaugural committee required reporters to remain in a press “pen” and to seek an official escort when leaving its confines.
The president-elect has complained about the media’s coverage of him since he began running for the office in mid-2015. During his campaign, he revoked the press credentials of about a dozen news organizations that displeased him, including The Washington Post. In his only post-election news conference last week, Trump blasted CNN as “fake news” and BuzzFeed as a “failing pile of garbage” for reporting on memos alleging that Russian intelligence officials hold damaging information about him. He has regularly singled out reporters and news outlets for criticism on Twitter.
Trump and his advisers have also discussed moving reporters out of the White House press room, though no decisions have been made so far.
In practical terms, the pool-only restriction at the inaugural celebrations means that news media access to the event is at the discretion of Trump’s staff. It’s not clear how much time pool reporters will be given to report before, during and after the president and vice president have appeared and departed. Theoretically, newsworthy events — a security issue, a surprise guest appearance, a major logistical problem, etc. — could occur before or after the pool is no longer on the premises.
“It’s not the same as moving around and staying as long as you want,” said one White House reporter. “They’re basically saying, ‘You’ll know what happens when you get there. Then you have to leave.’ ”
However, the TV pool will be able to record the president’s remarks and his first dance with first lady Melania Trump — the most important images for TV news reports, said one video journalist. “That’s all we really care about,” he said.
The White House Correspondents Association, which represents reporters in bargaining for greater access to presidential events, said it had little information about the inaugural committee’s plans for the balls. “The WHCA has been pushing for broad access for the press at inaugural events just as we do for events at the White House,” said Jeff Mason, the president of the organization.