Over the past three months, the number of reporters with access to the White House dropped by 31%. There are now 442 fewer reporters with a coveted “hard pass”—the result of new rules announced in May that took effect Tuesday.
The Daily Signal’s Fred Lucas was among the reporters slated to lose his White House press credentials, although he was given a 10-day extension “to submit the required materials.” The White House now requires reporters to obtain press credentials from Congress or the Supreme Court to fulfill its new requirement; Lucas is currently awaiting a decision on his applications to the other branches.
Politico’s West Wing Playbook first reported the numbers Wednesday along with news that Simon Ateba, the White House correspondent for Today News Africa, lost his hard pass. Ateba, along with the other 441 reporters who no longer have credentials, won’t be able to attend White House press briefings or access the sprawling Pennsylvania Avenue campus unless they obtain what’s called a temporary day pass.
The White House announced new rules in May to limit the number of journalists who are eligible for a White House hard pass. Reporters are still allowed to apply for a day pass, but they must do so daily and undergo Secret Service review.
Up until this week, the White House didn’t disclose the number of reporters who had a hard pass. Politico reported, “Within the past three months, the number of hard pass holders dropped from 1,417 to 975, with those approved reflecting a mix of renewals and new applications.”
A spokesman for the White House confirmed to Politico that one individual who applied for a hard pass was denied under the new rules. The White House didn’t disclose the reporter’s name.
The six rules outlined in the May memo require reporters to be employed full time at an organization that disseminates news, live in the Washington, D.C., area, regularly access and cover the White House, and submit to a Secret Service investigation. They also now require pass holders to first obtain “accreditation by a press gallery in either the U.S. Senate, U.S. House of Representatives, or Supreme Court.” (See the full email from the White House Press Office at the end of this story.)
The memo also gives President Joe Biden’s press team greater power to expel journalists who don’t “act in a professional manner.” Ateba regularly sparred with White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre, leading to stories in The New York Times, The Washington Post, and an appearance on the now-canceled “Tucker Carlson Tonight.”
Last month, the White House Press Office sent Ateba a warning that he risked expulsion if he continued to interrupt briefings in violation of the new rules.
Lucas, who has covered the White House during the presidencies of Barack Obama, Donald Trump, and Biden, has watched both the press office and White House Correspondents’ Association change during his 14 years on the beat.
During the Trump administration, the White House clashed with reporters over media access. CNN reporter Jim Acosta and Playboy correspondent Brian Karem were booted, although each took their cases to court and eventually won reinstatement.
This time, however, few reporters are standing up in opposition to the new rules. Even the White House Correspondents’ Association “has taken an officially noncommittal stance,” according to The Washington Post.
Kelly O’Donnell, a senior White House correspondent for NBC News who is currently president of the White House Correspondents’ Association, did not respond to The Daily Signal’s inquiry about the 442 reporters whose credentials were revoked.
The Daily Signal, a media outlet founded by The Heritage Foundation in 2014, doesn’t have press credentials to cover Congress or the Supreme Court, although Lucas has applied for both and continues to await a decision from each institution.
The White House says the new rules will enhance security by limiting access to hard passes.
“At the time we initiated this process in early May, roughly 40 percent of hard pass holders had not accessed the White House complex in the prior 90 days,” a White House spokesman told Politico. “We think this demonstrates we’ve led a thoughtful and thorough process that preserves robust media access to campus for everyone who needs it—whether that be with a hard pass or a day pass.”
Not everyone agrees.
A lawyer representing Matthew Anthony Harper, the White House correspondent for InterMountain Christian News, sent the White House a cease-and-desist letter on July 24 objecting to the new rules.
“The requirement of accreditation by a press gallery in either the U.S. Congress or the Supreme Court appears to be an effort to purge smaller, regional news outlets who cannot afford enough reporters to continually cover both the White House and another branch of government,” attorney Paul A. Hoffman wrote on Harper’s behalf.
This necessarily leads to fewer news outlets covering essential government functions and to more reliance only on large news outlets whose perspectives are often different from smaller, regionally based news organizations representing unique constituencies around the country. Accordingly, these new restrictions appear aimed at reducing press access to the White House and are both arbitrary and discriminatory against small, diverse news outlets that will otherwise go unrepresented at White House press conferences.
The White House granted Harper a 10-day extension, the same courtesy afforded to Lucas.
“We will allow you until August 10, 2023, to submit the required materials,” the White House Press Office wrote to Lucas. “While we review your application, your current hard pass to access the White House will remain valid.”
It’s unclear when the Congress or Supreme Court will make a final determination on Lucas’ application—a process that can take months, at least with the congressional galleries—meaning he might not have the “required materials” by the new deadline.
In the meantime, Lucas plans to continue showing up for Jean-Pierre’s press room briefings and other events at the White House. No briefings were held this week with Biden vacationing in Delaware.
Biden is among the least accessible presidents in modern history. He has done far fewer press conferences than his predecessors, averaging only 10 per year.
Tamara Keith, the former White House Correspondents’ Association president, cited that lack of access to Biden as one of her biggest challenges during her tenure.
“In terms of the relationship between the president and the press, they are not doing a lot of press conferences, and we’ve had to really advocate to get the ones that we’ve gotten, which is quite frustrating,” Keith said in a wide-ranging Deadline interview in April.
According to the American Presidency Project at the University of California, Santa Barbara, Biden held nine press conferences in 2021, 12 in 2022, and five so far this year. Just one of Biden’s press conferences in 2023 was a solo appearance.
The following email, dated May 11, was sent by the White House Press Office outlining the new rules for hard-pass holders such as Lucas.
From: White House Press Office
Sent: Thursday, May 11, 2023 3:46 PM
Subject: Notice to All Hard Pass Holders
We are writing to inform you that the White House intends to revise the policy on press hard passes to be consistent with that of prior administrations. Under the policy, all current press hard passes will expire on July 31. You will be able to request renewal of your current hard pass as described below, and any renewed passes will remain valid for one year, subject to annual renewal.
To renew your pass, your bureau chief/supervisor will need to email a letter to XXXXX. Your news organization will not need to submit multiple letters if requesting hard passes for more than one employee as long as your letter covers all employees requesting hard pass access to the White House campus.
This letter will need to be written on the official letterhead of your news organization, including contact information for someone who can verify the details provided below, and indicate that each applicant meets the following requirements:
- Full-time employment with an organization whose principal business is news dissemination (If you are freelance, we will need letters from two news organizations describing your affiliation, or, if you freelance primarily for one organization, a letter from that organization describing the extent and duration of your relationship with the organization);
- Physical address (either residential or professional) in the greater Washington, D.C. area;
- Have accessed the White House campus at least once during the prior six months for work, or have proof of employment within the last three months to cover the White House;
- Assignment to cover (or provide technical support in covering) the White House on a regular basis;
- Accreditation by a press gallery in either the U.S. Senate, U.S. House of Representatives, or Supreme Court; and
- Willingness to submit to any necessary investigation by the U.S. Secret Service to determine eligibility for access to the White House complex, where Secret Service will determine eligibility based on whether the applicant presents a potential risk to the safety or security of the President, the Vice President, or the White House complex.
This letter should be attached, along with a photograph or scan of a Senate, House of Representatives, or Supreme Court credential, and the completed hard pass application and submitted at one time to XXXXX.
After receiving the letter from your supervisor and updating your background check, the U.S. Secret Service will grant a hard pass upon confirmation from the Press Office that you meet the above criteria. You will not need to receive a new physical pass if you already have one.
If you currently do not have a hard pass, you will need to complete the standard application and also provide the letter stated above. The Press Office will then be in touch to schedule a time to pick up your hard pass if approved.
The White House expects that all hard pass holders will act in a professional manner while on White House grounds by respecting their colleagues, White House employees, and guests; observing stated restrictions on access to areas of the White House or credentialed events; and not impeding events or briefings on campus. Absent security concerns involving the United States Secret Service or other exigent circumstances, the White House will provide a written warning to you if your conduct violates these expectations. Subsequent violations may lead to the suspension or revocation of your hard pass, following notice and an opportunity to respond.
If you have comments or questions regarding this proposed policy, please submit them to XXXXX no later than May 15.
Please let us know if you have any questions.
The White House Press Office