The pool report is a basic tool of the Washington DC reporting process. The White House reporting pool is large. It wouldn’t be logistically possible for the reporters to follow the president’s every move. Instead, a small number of reporters rotate in and out each day to do that work. They write up coverage of the president for colleagues in the “pool report,” which is then distributed to those covering the White House to use without attribution.
It’s really those last two words—”without attribution”—that are a problem. All journalists are taught that sourcing information is crucial to credibility. So why would the pool report be used without attribution?
My covenant with the public as a reporter is simple: I can only tell my audience what I know — and exactly how I learned it. So, why wouldn’t a reporter write in his or her story, “according to the pool report”? Or add to the tagline at the bottom of the story: “Parts of this story were taken from the White House pool report.”
Not only would that story then conform to generally accepted reporting principles, it would also help educate the public about how we cover the president. Maybe then people would understand that an independent reporting pool is worth fighting for.
And it would be great, if more people knew more about the fight the White House reporters have waged to maintain the credibility of the pool report.
Traditionally, the White House has distributed the pool reports, unedited and unquestioned. But in 2014, the Washington Post reported a disturbing trend: White House officials started asking reporters to “correct” or delete information before distributing the pool report.
The reports, in some cases, were held hostage until the changes were made.
There was outrage.
“The independence of the print pool reports is of utmost importance to us,” said Christi Parsons, a Los Angeles Times reporter who is president of the White House Correspondents’ Association (or the WHCA). “Our expectation is that the White House puts out the pool report and asks questions later.”
In 2015, the WHCA found a way to protect the system’s integrity. The pool reporters, about 90 of them, now bypass the White House. Instead they file their reports via Google to make sure it goes out to the 8,000 or so who read the report, including the White House.
This post is part of a series of ways journalism can rebuild public trust. Click here to read the full list.