The White House Press Pool is the Latest Casualty of Donald Trump’s Inadherance to COVID-19 Safety Precautions
Reporters from numerous news organizations are refusing to cover President Donald Trump in person because he will not wear a mask despite a positive COVID-19 diagnosis, The New York Times reported on Monday.
“The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post are among the major outlets that have declined to assign reporters to travel with Mr. Trump as he returns to the trail this week, saying they do not have assurance that basic precautions will be taken to protect reporters’ health,” Michael Grynbaum wrote in his coverage of the deepening press pool crisis.
“At least seven major news outlets declined to accept one of the available press seats on Mr. Trump’s plane, according to people familiar with internal planning discussions. Publications including BuzzFeed News, Politico and Hearst Newspapers have declined pool slots in recent days,” Grynbaum added.
Trump caught the coronavirus earlier this month and was hospitalized for a weekend of personally-tailored experimental treaments in a cushy presidential suite. After he checked out against the wishes of his doctors, Trump broke quarantine and even held an event at the White House – where he did not wear a mask – while still contagious.
This has been Trump’s pattern of behavior since the beginning of the pandemic, and having contracted the virulent disease himself was not enough of a wake up call for him to make an adjustment. As a result, reporters in the field are now trying to avoid being in his presence at all, due to the risk he may still pose to others.
Newspaper leaders are standing by their staff, Grynbaum wrote.
Elisabeth Bumiller, the Times’s Washington bureau chief, said in a statement on Monday that “White House reporters had safety concerns and were not comfortable traveling with the president at this time.”
White House Correspondents’ Association President and Associated Press reporter Zeke Allen told the organization’s members that their health and safety is its top priority.
“While we know no situation is 100 percent safe in a pandemic, it is our expectation that the pool will not be put in an unduly risky position,” Allen said in a memo.
“We continue to evaluate our coverage plans,” a spokesman for the Post added.
Trump is scheduled to participate in an NBC town hall this coming Thursday, and the network has requested copies of the president’s medical records so that the safety of employees can be assured, Grynbaum reported.
NBC, however, is far from alone in its reluctance to be within spitting distance of Trump, Grynbaum explained in his report:
The White House Correspondents’ Association, which coordinates the so-called pool of reporters who travel with the president to chronicle his movements and utterances, is now scrambling to find journalists willing to staff the president’s events. It’s an unheard-of phenomenon for a tradition that dates back decades, veteran Washington correspondents say, and it comes with Election Day just three weeks away.
Trump’s condition is not the only concern among media correspondents, however. Since Trump’s diagnosis, dozens of White House staffers have received positive test results and, like the president, are ignoring proper procedures to prevent the spread:
Many flight attendants and Secret Service agents on Air Force One have not worn masks; White House aides who tested positive for the coronavirus, or were potentially exposed, are returning to work before the end of a two-week quarantine; and the campaign has instituted few restrictions at the raucous rallies that Mr. Trump is now pledging to hold on a regular basis until Election Day.
Despite the universally accepted necessity of primary source presidential coverage, as well as the competitive top-tier White House assignment, journalsists now find themselves torn between doing their job and keeping themselves, their families, and their communities coronavirus-free.
Ari Fleischer, one of President George W. Bush’s press secretaries, told Grynbaum that having direct access to the president is paramount to a free press.
“Pools are the direct link between the White House and the public without a governmental lens or filter,” said Fleischer. “Regardless of how biased you think the press is or is not, the pool is a direct set of independent eyeballs on the president of the United States.”
Team Trump, meanwhile, maintained that the White House is doing everything it can and that the Trump administration has been “in regular discussions” with journalists “to ensure that all those traveling in the protective pool feel safe to do so.”
Shortly after the White House announced on Monday that Trump had tested negative multiple times since his diagnosis and subsequent therapies (using the wrong test, mind you), the president boarded Air Force One using the aircraft’s cargo stairs to head to Sanford, Florida, for his first official campaign rally since he got sick – without wearing a mask.