October 17, 2019 at 11:52 am EDT | by Chris Johnson
If not for WHCA, Blade would be barred from Trump’s White House
Chris Johnson, gay news, Washington Blade
Chris Johnson (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

As the Washington Blade celebrates its 50th anniversary, I take pride in knowing that I have taken part in a full one-fifth of that history as chief political and White House reporter.

A lot of that pride comes from personally having spearheaded efforts over the course of 10 years to take the Blade to new levels in terms of its reporting at the White House.

That includes participation in the White House press briefings (when they still were happening); contributing to the pool rotation by shadowing the U.S. president every month or so; and posing questions to both President Obama and President Trump.

The Blade is the only LGBT news outlet in the White House press corps. I handled it throughout each of eight years of the Obama administration and haven’t been deterred one bit with Trump in the White House.

To be sure, the Blade for decades has had robust coverage of national news at the White House. Just ask our veteran reporter Lou Chibbaro Jr., who’ll tell you he had credentials as far back as the Reagan administration and Ari Fleischer responded to his questions in the early years of George W. Bush. (That was before the Bush White House revoked the Blade’s hard pass, which was reinstated when Obama took office.)

A lot of people have asked how I can possibly stand going to the Trump White House every day. But I’m an LGBT journalist, not an LGBT advocate. I thrive on finding mismanagement and exposing it.

The Trump White House thrives on chaos in a way that would be unheard of during the Obama years. As one example, the White House news briefings have been replaced with survival-of-the-fittest gaggles with Trump upon his departures from the White House.

As of now, I have never gotten a question with Trump in these settings. Reporters seeking to be heard shout questions over each other and the roar of the engine on Marine One. Trump seems focused on taking inquiries from TV networks with large audiences and conservative outlets friendly to him.

The pool rotation is a different story. I’ve logged a couple questions with Trump on days the responsibility falls to me, most notably an inquiry on whether he’s OK with his administration making it easier to discriminate against LGBT workers. (He responded by touting his endorsement by the Log Cabin Republicans.)

It’s great the U.S. president is willing to open himself for questions regularly from reporters, but the regular White House news briefings should be restored..

Sometimes I get the question in another way: Does the Trump White House really allow an LGBT outlet into the White House?

The answer to that question is just barely. If not for the White House Correspondents’ Association, the Blade would be unable to access the White House grounds just as it was during the later Bush years.

Under the policy of the White House press office, a reporter seeking to maintain a hard pass has to have logged a high hurdle of time on the White House grounds.

Journalists have to clock in at the White House 50 percent of the time in 180 days, or 90 days in that period. That’s effectively once every other day, including weekends and holidays.

We don’t exactly have the resources at the Blade to maintain that kind of presence (nor do a lot of outlets), especially since LGBT news happens not just at the White House, but Congress, the courts and elsewhere across in the country in state legislatures and the campaign trail in the 2020 election.

What’s more, why should any reporter log that much time at the White House without regularly scheduled daily briefings?

The policy resulted in the purge of hard passes from reporters. It’s hard to say how many, but anecdotally I’ve heard some stories. But the Blade was able to maintain access and a hard pass.

Why is that the case? The White House Correspondents’ Association negotiated an agreement so that every outlet in the White House pool rotation can have at least one reporter credentialed with a hard pass. Because the Blade is in the pool rotation, that made us eligible.

So the Blade not only has the WHCA to thank for allowing us into the pool rotation in the Obama years, but also for allowing us to maintain access to the White House with a hard pass during the Trump years.

And we do thank the WHCA. Without their help, the nation’s oldest LGBT newspaper wouldn’t be able to contribute to White House news coverage, and the LGBT community wouldn’t have the opportunity to pose questions relevant to Trump firsthand.

Chris Johnson is the Blade’s White House reporter. Reach him at cjohnson@washblade.com.

Chris Johnson is Chief Political & White House Reporter for the Washington Blade. Johnson is a member of the White House Correspondents' Association. Follow Chris

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