While it’s not unusual for White House officials to hold “background briefing sessions” where information can be reported, but not directly quoted, it is highly unusual for the president to make an appearance. And even more unusual about the session held on Monday, was the fact that it was deemed to be “off-the-record” before it began.
Recently, the press corps has been losing patience with the numerous scandals emanating from this administration, and the lack of information forthcoming about them.
Initially billed as a conversation with White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough, BuzzFeed explained how the meeting transpired:
Reporters who attended Monday’s session with the president were loathe to discuss it with BuzzFeed, citing the White House’s stipulation that the meeting remain off the record. But the session came after the White House announced a “travel/photo lid” for the day — White House parlance for no more events, and the signal for the pool reporter to go home — and reporters from The New York Times, Washington Post, Huffington Post, Time, McClatchy, Politico, Tribune, NPR, Bloomberg, USA Today, AFP, Yahoo and other outlets were milling around the briefing room waiting to be called in. In total, about two dozen reporters were included. (BuzzFeed was not invited to the meeting, although a reporter, who did not know the president would be present, requested to be included.)
Reporters said they were not told that Obama would be attending the session. New York Times White House reporter Peter Baker said if he had known in advance, he and his editors may have decided not to participate.
“If we had, I think we would have had a conversation here in our office first about whether to attend or not. We tend to evaluate these on a case-by-case basis,” Baker told BuzzFeed. “Our concern about off-the-record sessions with the president is that they not become substitutes for opportunities to ask questions and get answers on the record, which after all is our job.”
In late May, Attorney General Eric Holder extended an offer to have an “off-the-record” meeting with the media to discuss the monitoring of reporters, but several members of the press declined the invitation.
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