On Tuesday President-elect Trump went out for dinner in New York without a pool of journalists in his motorcade and after reporters were advised that he was in for the night. One week after the election, it is unacceptable for the next president of the United States to travel without a regular pool to record his movements and inform the public about his whereabouts. The White House Correspondents Association is pleased to hear reassurances by the Trump transition team that it will respect long-held traditions of press access at the White House and support a pool structure. But the time to act on that promise is now. Pool reporters are in place in New York to cover the president-elect as he assembles his new administration. It is critical that they be allowed to do their jobs.
Last week, we took a look at why Trump transition access so far has White House reporters worried.
If President-elect Donald Trump is trying to calm journalists' concerns about White House access, he is not doing a very good job.
A Trump spokeswoman, Hope Hicks, told Politico on Thursday that “we fully expect to operate a traditional pool and look forward to implementing our plans in the near future. We appreciate your patience as we navigate the transition process.”
Hicks was referring to the so-called “protective” pool of reporters that traditionally follows a president almost everywhere. Trump did not allow such access during the campaign, nor did he say that he would in office.
Hicks's statement is encouraging on its face, but if you read closely, you will notice that it is not exactly a guarantee. Saying you “expect” to grant access is not the same as promising to do so. Expectations — particularly those set by Trump — are not always fulfilled.
He said during the campaign that he would release his tax returns. He did not. He said in January that he had donated $1 million to veterans' charities. He had not — and only did so four months later, after The Washington Post's David Fahrenthold reported the missing gift.
With Trump, the media must take a believe-it-when-we-see-it approach. And what we have seen so far is rather inauspicious.
Trump refused to take his traveling press corps with him on a trip to the White House on Thursday. The White House Correspondents Association arranged for journalists covering Trump to join President Obama's pool of reporters, but had the matter been left to the transition team, there might have been no access at all.
Later in the day, Trump abruptly changed plans and decided to return to New York without bringing along his press corps — or even notifying reporters of the new itinerary.
“Hicks has not responded to any additional emails with questions about the president-elect's status, schedule or whereabouts since changing course and saying he was headed back to New York,” Politico's Edward-Isaac Dovere wrote to the journalists in Trump's pool on Thursday evening.
The nonresponsiveness is perhaps the most frustrating part for the press. Any new administration deserves some grace while it figures out new protocols. Oversights happen. But right now, journalists have to worry that they still won't know what is going on, even when they ask.
Apparently they also have to worry about whether they can get into the same building as Trump.
Perhaps Trump will indeed allow a protective press pool when he is president and make his inaccessibility during the campaign and the transition period distant memories. But for now, he is not inspiring confidence.