Around noon, President Trump allowed the media into the Oval Office for what’s known as a “pool spray” with the emir, at which Trump talked about the forthcoming signing ceremony. “They’re buying tremendous amounts of military equipment, including planes and they’re buying commercial planes, as you know, a very large number of commercial planes from Boeing. And we very much appreciate it. We’re going to be signing a document today, a very large transaction — you’re going to be invited to the signing,” said Trump to the assembled media pool.
Thing is, a previously released schedule indicated that the signing session — which also involves Qatari entities and Chevron-Phillips, General Electric and Raytheon — was closed to the media. Apparently the White House decided that good business news might benefit from photographic diffusion. Accordingly, the White House proposed allowing one photographer into the event, which was crowded with about 50 expected attendees.
No dice, responded the photographers: You either get the whole pool or nothing at all. According to a White House Correspondents’ Association member, there were no still photographers from any U.S. media outlet in the room. The Post, AP, AFP, Reuters, the New York Times and Getty all stayed away. (The photo above, by The Post’s Jabin Botsford, is from a separate Oval Office pool spray, which took place before the signing ceremony.)
A print pool representative — George Condon of the National Journal — did attend the signing ceremony. “At the later event in the Roosevelt Room, the two leaders stood behind various officials and business leaders as they signed five agreements. They did not speak during the signings, as Treasury Secretary Mnuchin presided,” wrote Condon in a pool report.
WHCA President Olivier Knox declined to comment on the record, saying that he was still gathering information on the matter. WHCA negotiates for access with White House officials on behalf of reporters and photographers, and coordinates the pools that cover events too cramped to fit a full media contingent.
Journalists consulted by the Erik Wemple Blog attributed this episode not to any effort by the White House to muzzle the press, but rather to dysfunction. The press operation, they say, isn’t sufficiently staffed to handle all the logistical and planning imperatives involved in running the White House. Consider that Stephanie Grisham, who was recently installed as White House press secretary, also serves as communications director — all the while hanging on to her old job as communications director for first lady Melania Trump.
Don’t mess with White House photographers, either. They reached the point of “mutiny” as they fought for inclusion in events at the Obama White House, which had an unseemly preference for the official photographs of Pete Souza. “The way they exclude us is to say that this is a very private moment,” photographer Doug Mills told his own newspaper at the time. “But they’re making private moments very public.”
Trump, of course, loves to be photographed, especially when the result graces the cover of a prominent publication. In a recent trip to the demilitarized zone, Grisham engaged in a body-clearing exercise against North Korean officials, the better to allow U.S. journalists to document a meeting between the president and North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un. Trump surely didn’t want to be alone with propagandists.