DANANG, Vietnam — News photographers and reporters traveling with President Trump are protesting a lack of access provided by the White House to his events here at a regional economic conference.
On Saturday, New York Times photographer Doug Mills, a member of the White House Correspondents' Association board, tweeted a “photo” of a black box, framed with a decorative border, to illustrate the group's frustration. In the tweet, Mills said the 13-member travel “pool” of reporters, photographers and camera operators that provides reports for the rest of the news media would have no access at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit.
The pool, which on Saturday included a reporter from The Washington Post, joined Trump in several vans in his motorcade, as is customary when a U.S. president travels domestically or internationally. But the group was kept waiting in the vans — and then, later, a fitness room away from the summit — as Trump participated in meetings and an official group portrait. At an APEC welcome dinner Friday night that Trump participated in, the travel pool also had been mostly shut out.
Michelle Meadows, a White House official who is helping organize Trump's five-nation Asia trip, said Friday that the summit organizers provided limited access for reporters, offering the U.S. delegation only two passes for an “official” photographer and videographer — and none for the news media. She said the White House chose to give the videographer pass to the news media, allowing Fox News, which was pool television network for Trump's stop in Danang, to enter the dinner. But Fox also was not allowed in after officials abruptly canceled the photo op without explanation.
“We have been negotiating since the pre-advance and have made progress on almost every event for this swing,” Meadows said in a written statement Friday that was provided to the pool. “We ALWAYS ask for the full Pool to have access but we do not always get what we want.”
Each administration negotiates for access for presidential trips abroad on bilateral visits or multilateral summits, and access often varies by country. For instance, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping did not take questions from reporters in Beijing this week because the Chinese had objected to allowing it. China has state-run media, and while American reporters shouted out questions to Trump during a joint appearance with Xi, the U.S. president did not answer.
The Freedom House rights group calls China's media environment “one of the world’s most restrictive” and Vietnam's “one of the harshest in Asia.” In its Freedom of the Press score, it gave China a score of 87 out of 100, and Vietnam 85 out of 100. (Higher scores indicate a less free environment.) By comparison, the United States got a score of 23 out of 100.
The White House has provided full pool coverage to numerous events on Trump's stops in Hawaii, Tokyo, Seoul and Beijing, as well as opportunities for the rest of the dozens of reporters who have traveled in a charter plane and by commercial airline to cover some events. Trump participated in a formal news conference with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe that included two questions from American reporters and two from Japanese reporters.
But the limits have rankled reporters and photographers. Trump has, on numerous occasions, referred to the media as “fake news” and suggested that limits be placed on news outlets whose coverage he has found unflattering.
Mills, in an email sent from the van in which he and the others were waiting, said the pool was objecting to the limits placed on it by both the Trump White House and the APEC summit organizers.
“Clearly not fair at all,” he wrote. Referring to news photographers, known colloquially as “stills,” Mills added: “There are 4 stills traveling with [the president] and none of us have had access to Trump with other foreign leaders. Two days in a row.”
The news photographers, as a group, agreed not to accept handouts provided by the White House of pictures taken by the official White House photographer.
After the summit, Trump flew on Air Force One to Hanoi for bilateral meetings with Vietnamese leaders. During the flight, Trump visited the press cabin, where he answered questions and allowed photographers, including Mills, to take his picture.
Sanders said Trump visited the press cabin after he had heard from aides about the reporters' concerns over access and pledged the White House would push more aggressively for better access at a pair of regional summits Trump plans to attend Monday and Tuesday in the Philippines.
That was little solace, however, for the hours of waiting around without seeing anything inside APEC. As they waited on the side of the road, the press pool decided to re-create the "family photo" the APEC leaders, including Trump, posed for.