The White House press office has on several occasions made changes to media reports produced by journalists in the press pool, demanding adjustments as a condition of distributing the articles to press outlets more widely, according to The Washington Post.
The White House press pool is a rotating selection of professional reporters who attend events covering the president, and produce reports that are distributed for use more widely.
As part of the protocol, copy is sent to the White House press office for review. The White House then disseminates the stories via email to thousands of journalists and government officials.
According to the Post, most of the interference by the White House involves minor changes to spelling or small fact corrections, but it has on occasion taken issue with certain details that are being reported, in some cases demanding they be removed from reports entirely.
"Journalists who cover the White House say Obama's press aides have demanded — and received — changes in press-pool reports before the reports have been disseminated to other journalists. They say the White House has used its unusual role as the distributor of the reports as leverage to steer coverage in a more favorable direction," the Post reported.
"While the overwhelming majority of pool reports pass through the White House without delay or amendment, some have been flagged by the administration's press staff, which has demanded changes as a condition of distributing them."
In one instance, a pool reporter covered a presidential trip on Air Force One to California in 2012. As part of the coverage, the reporter included mention of the president presenting a birthday dessert to a reporter and asking her to make a wish, "preferably one that had something to do with the number 270," in reference to the minimum number of electoral college votes the president needed to win re-election.
The story was flagged by a press aide who insisted that details of the president's comments were off the record and would not be included in the distributed story. The reporter appealed the decision to then-press secretary Jay Carney, who gave approval, but the report was ultimately sent too late for reporters to use.
"My view is the White House has no right to touch a pool report," Tom DeFrank, contributing editor of the National Journal, told the Post. "It's none of their business. If they want to challenge something by putting out a statement of their own, that's their right. It's also their prerogative to jawbone a reporter, which often happens. But they have no right to alter a pool report unilaterally."
The interferences have prompted the White House Correspondents' Association (WHCA) to consider revising its procedure for pool reporting.
"The independence of the print pool reports is of utmost importance to us," Christie Parsons, the WHCA's president, told the Post. "Our expectation is that the White House puts out the pool report and asks questions later."
Parsons said she was assured by White House Press Secretary John Earnest that this would be the practice, and the White House reinforced the view that it will work cooperatively with reporters.
"We value the role of the independent press pool, which provides timely, extensive, and important coverage of the president and his activities while at the White House and around the world," White House deputy press secretary Eric Schultz told the Post.
"That is why, at the request of the White House Correspondents Association, the White House has distributed 20,000 pool reports in the past six years, and we will continue to offer that facilitation for journalists as they work to chronicle the presidency."
The report comes after numerous complaints by journalists that the Obama White House has systematically restricted reporter access, hindering the freedom of the press.
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