The organization representing White House reporters recommended reforms Sunday to end “a pattern of petty harassment” of the press by Secret Service agents and to give journalists better access to the President.
In a 19-page report reviewing reporters’ complaints, the White House Correspondents Assn. also recommended that news agencies help by not requesting White House credentials as status symbols for persons who do not regularly cover the President.
The report recounted dozens of instances of the use of bodyguards to block reporters from covering the President and to subject them to extensive personal searches for weapons--searches not applied to others entering the White House compound on a daily basis.
The report quoted the Secret Service as saying that the issuance of 1,737 permanent White House press passes has devalued the credentials.
“The Secret Service no longer views a pass holder as any less dangerous to the President than a non-pass holder,” the report said.
A key recommendation is to establish a “two-tier” system of White House credentials--one for the reporters who cover the President day-to-day and one for columnists, editors and others who would never be in the “pool” covering the President at close range.
It also suggested that White House “regulars” be given more thorough background checks “to allow them freedom from harassment when they are in close proximity to the President.”
The report, prepared under the supervision of association president Sara Fritz of the Los Angeles Times, recounted “war stories” of correspondents with grievances against Secret Service operations.
The report quoted complaints by reporters of being pushed and shoved by agents, of attempts by agents to physically restrain them from asking questions of the President and of being kept farther away from the President than the general public was.
White House Deputy Press Secretary Robert Sims, when asked for an official reaction to the report, said: “We don’t have any comment on it.”
The report also quoted Secret Service spokesman Robert Snow as saying that he tells new agents that “dealing with the media is an adversarial job. The things that make a good agent also make a good reporter--being aggressive and pushy.”