White House Edits Pool Reports — But Not Station Chief Name

White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest

White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest

The Washington Post has a story on the petty edits that the White House Press Office makes to pool reports.

In pool reports, White House beat reporters take turns to serve as the one journalist recording more mundane events. Their report gets distributed to all journalists on the White House press list and other reporters use the pool report for their own stories.

As the Post reports, pool reporters have been asked to remove things like details of the First Lady’s workout habits, as well as comparisons that highlight the President’s double standards on press access.

On another occasion, in 2011, [the Press Secretary Jay] Carney himself objected to a pool report that included a mention of first lady Michelle Obama working out at a hotel gym during a presidential trip to Asia. Carney told the pool reporter, David Nakamura of The Washington Post, that the workout was part of the first lady’s personal time and therefore off limits to reporters. Nakamura disagreed but reluctantly deleted the line to ensure that his report would be sent.

During the same trip, then-deputy press secretary Josh Earnest flagged another of Nakamura’s reports. This one contained a comment juxtaposing a speech Obama had given two days earlier lauding freedom of the press with the administration’s decision to limit access to presidential photo ops on the trip.

Earnest, who succeeded Carney as press secretary in May, considered Nakamura’s comparison unfair and asked him to take it out, according to Nakamura. After an argument, the reporter acquiesced.

The story might do no more than illustrate how obsessive about image this White House has become.

But compare this report of petty edits with another Washington Post story, explaining how it happened that the White House revealed the name of the CIA station chief in Kabul, Afghanistan. The White House had included the CIA officer’s name on a list provided by the Defense Department, and the pool reporter, the Post‘s Scott Wilson, included the name in his pool report.

Their names were included on a list of participants in the briefing provided by U.S. military officials to the White House press office.

The list was circulated by e-mail to reporters who traveled to Afghanistan with Obama, and disseminated further when it was included in a “pool report,” or summary of the event meant to be shared with other news organizations, including foreign media, not taking part in the trip.

In this case, the pool report was filed by Washington Post White House bureau chief Scott Wilson. Wilson said he had copied the list from the e-mail provided by White House press officials. He sent his pool report to the press officials, who then distributed it to a list of more than 6,000 recipients.

Wilson said that after the report was distributed, he noticed the unusual reference to the station chief and asked White House press officials in Afghanistan whether they had intended to include that name.

Initially, the press office raised no objection, apparently because military officials had provided the list to distribute to news organizations. But senior White House officials realized the mistake and scrambled to issue an updated list without the CIA officer’s name.

Had anyone else casually released the name of the station chief, recent history suggests, the Department of Justice would have launched an investigation, if not a prosecution. In this case, the exposure was dismissed as an accident.

Yet now we know that the White House staff scrutinizes these reports and, when they deem it necessary, makes corrections.

They’re just more interested in the image of the White House than the national security information they otherwise deem so important, it seems.


About Marcy Wheeler

Investigative journalist Marcy Wheeler wrote the "Right to Know" column for ExposeFacts. She is best known for providing in-depth analysis of legal documents related to "war on terrorism" programs and civil liberties. Wheeler blogs at emptywheel.net and publishes at outlets including the Guardian, Salon and the Progressive. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit: How the Bush Administration Used the Media to Sell the Iraq War and Out a Spy. Wheeler won the 2009 Hillman Award for blog journalism.