WASHINGTON -- The White House threatened Thursday to exclude The San Francisco Chronicle from pooled coverage of its events in the Bay Area after the paper posted a video of a protest at a San Francisco fundraiser for President Obama last week, Chronicle Editor Ward Bushee said.
White House guidelines governing press coverage of such events are too restrictive, Bushee said, saying the newspaper was within its right to film the protest and post the video.
The White House press office would not speak on the record about the issue.
Chronicle senior political reporter Carla Marinucci was invited by the White House to cover the April 21 fundraiser on the condition that she send her written report to the White House to distribute to other reporters who did not attend. Such "pool reports" routinely provide press coverage at White House events not open to the entire press corps.
About 200 donors, paying $5,000 to $38,500 each, attended the event at the St. Regis Hotel a day after Obama visited Facebook headquarters in Silicon Valley touting the proliferation of "new media" breaking the confines of traditional journalism.
At the St. Regis, a group of protesters who paid collectively $76,000 to attend the fundraiser interrupted Obama with a song complaining about the administration's treatment of Pfc. Bradley Manning, the soldier who allegedly leaked U.S. classified documents to the WikiLeaks website.
As part of a "print-only pool," Marinucci was limited by White House guidelines to provide a print-only report, but she also took a video of the protest. After sending her written pool report, she posted the video in her written story on The Chronicle's online edition at SFGate.com and on its politics blog.
Marinucci said several other attendees, including protesters, filmed the protest. She said she felt professionally obliged to use the same tools that private citizens were using to report on it.
Protester Craig Casey, from freshjuiceparty.com, said the invitation's RSVP asked attendees not to take video, but he said event organizers did not stop his group when members began filming video that later was widely distributed.
The White House Correspondents Association's written guidelines allow print reporters to "snap pictures or take videos" as long as they provide a print report to the pool. The rule does not explicitly state whether it applies when the pool contains only print journalists or if it applies only when television crews are also present. Association officials did not comment.
Bushee said reporters must be allowed to cover news wherever it occurs, using the tools they have.
"If something more serious had happened, would you still observe the rules?" Bushee asked. "We expect our reporters to use the reporting tools they have to cover the news, and Carla did."
The White House should re-examine its guidelines that segregate print and video, Bushee said, in an era when all news outlets use multimedia platforms.
The San Francisco event last week was "in a public place with hundreds of people," Bushee said. He also said the White House rules are "not in the spirit of what the Obama administration is trying to project" in its claims to be the most transparent administration ever.
Marinucci, whose Shaky Hand Productions video blogs with Chronicle reporter Joe Garofoli have broken new ground in political news coverage, said old rules segregating print, photography and television journalists are obsolete.
"Everyone in an audience has video capability," Marinucci said. "That's a reality. God forbid if the president was attacked, would you just let citizen journalists record the event? ... There is no such thing as pure print anymore."
Fundraiser organizers and the White House "have the right to do whatever they want" regarding media access, said Lowell Bergman, a professor at the University of California Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism. He said it was not unusual for an administration to retaliate against a news organization with whom it disagrees.
"The Nixon administration, and the Ford administration after it, barred CBS News cameras from the Pentagon and would not cooperate" with the network after CBS aired a series called "The Selling of the Pentagon," Bergman said.
The dispute over the protest video follows increasing tension between the press corps and the Obama administration. Mark Knoller of CBS News has been pushing for more television access to Obama's fundraisers, which are increasing in frequency as the president begins his re-election campaign.
"President Obama has made good on his promise to have the most transparent White House in history," White House spokesman Adam Abrams said Thursday, "including routinely opening up his fundraising events to national and local reporters."
(Contact Carolyn Lochhead at email@example.com.
(Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service, www.scrippsnews.com.)