BOB GARFIELD: This week, for the first time ever, a blogger was granted access to the all-important White House briefing room. Garrett Graff, editor of fishbowlDC, a Mediabistro blog, fought diligently for the credentials that got him in. He joins me now from Washington to tell his tale. Garrett, welcome to OTM.
GARRETT GRAFF: Thank you very much for having me on the show.
BOB GARFIELD: Okay, so one day you're just sitting there going, "Ah, you know, I'd kinda like to go to the White House briefing." How did this all happen?
GARRETT GRAFF: My blog covers journalism and the media industry in Washington, and the Jeff Gannon story over the past couple of weeks here in DC where a fake journalist from a fake news organization, using a fake name, covered the White House briefing for two years has created sort of a lot of discussion about White House press credentials and these press briefings that the press secretary holds ever day, and I thought it would be interesting to go in and cover the briefing and talk about the process to get in and get a White House credential.
BOB GARFIELD: And how difficult was it?
GARRETT GRAFF: I expected it to be not the easiest thing in the world, and I was not disappointed. The process that I went through ended up taking a full week of 20-plus unreturned phone calls, but since my story was as much about the process to get into the White House as it was about actually getting into the White House, I was blogging all of this, and it ended up getting a lot of attention, both online and from sort of members of the White House press corps, and finally Ron Hutchinson, who covers the White House for Knight Ridder and is president of the White House Correspondents' Association, went and met with Scott McClellan and said I think that you should let this guy in - he's got a legitimate desire to cover the White House, and Scott McClellan, the White House press secretary, said it's your briefing room - you being the press - and if you want to allow bloggers in, we'll allow bloggers in.
BOB GARFIELD: So, during the whole Jeff Gannon fiasco, it was frankly unclear as to who was making these decisions. Was it Scott McClellan, was it the congressional press galleries, or was it the White House Correspondents' Association. Who does decide who's worthy to be in the room?
GARRETT GRAFF: It turns out that it's a combination of the White House press office and the Correspondents' Association, to a certain extent, because neither the White House nor the Correspondents' Association is particularly comfortable saying who is and who is not a journalist. So, they deal with it by establishing very low barriers that include you have to have a non-partisan and independent publication. You have to be supported by advertiser, subscriber revenue, and you have to be a regularly published publication. So, I made the argument that I met all of those criteria, and they seemed to agree.
BOB GARFIELD: So, you were on this holy quest, and thanks to your patience, persistence, diligence and Ron Hutchison's intervention, you got what you were looking for, and I guess you went to the White House to sit in the briefing room and participate in the gaggle, and what exactly did you learn?
GARRETT GRAFF: It's hard to not come away at some level impressed with what goes on there every day, but I was also shocked at how, shall we say, sub-par the working conditions the journalists live and work in there are. [LAUGHTER] They have very little space; it's very cramped and sort of drab and dreary. But, as one correspondent pointed out to me, the White House is loathe, generally, to make capital improvements on the press room because the last thing any administration wants is to make the press feel comfortable and encourage them to stay longer at their desks.
BOB GARFIELD: Well, Garrett, thanks an awful lot.
GARRETT GRAFF: Thank you very much.
BOB GARFIELD: Garrett Graff is the editor of fishbowlDC, a blog published by Media Bistro, and he has a day pass to the White House. [MUSIC]
BOB GARFIELD: Coming up, two subjects the media just don't understand - budgets and guns. This is On the Media, from NPR. [FUNDING CREDITS]