President Obama held an off-the-record meeting with select reporters from some of the nation’s largest print and online outlets Monday, in the White House’s latest effort to placate an increasingly restive press corps.
White House officials regularly meet with reporters for so-called “background briefing sessions,” where the attendees cannot be mentioned by name nor quoted directly, but Monday’s meeting was different. Initially billed as a conversation with White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough, the president made a surprise appearance — a very unusual move — and the White House placed the proceedings off the record beforehand. The meeting came amid a series of scandals crashing over the White House that has placed the administration on defense in a way it hasn’t been until now.
Relations between the press and the White House have been especially fraught since last month’s revelation that the Justice Department had covertly collected phone records from Associated Press reporters in pursuit of locating the source of a national security leak. When the Justice Department sought to hold an off-the-record meeting with journalists to discuss its investigation, news outlets pushed back, with The New York Times publicly refusing to attend.
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.)
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