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Boston Herald Says White House Cited Months-Old Mitt Romney Op-Ed in Keeping Reporter from Covering President

heraldoped.jpg

Shown here is an image from the front page of the Boston Herald on March 8. The article was an op-ed from former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.

The Boston Herald has accused the White House of denying its reporter full access to President Obama's local fundraiser Wednesday evening, claiming the Obama administration cited concerns about an op-ed the paper ran more than two months ago by Republican Mitt Romney

Romney, a former Massachusetts governor and possible GOP challenger in the 2012 presidential race, tore into Obama over the economy in his March 8 op-ed, which the Herald played on the front page at the time under the headline, "Why He's Failing." 

The White House didn't forget. 

According to emails published Wednesday in the Herald, when the newspaper tried to sign up for pool reporter duty ahead of Obama's visit to Boston, a White House spokesman questioned whether the newspaper could cover the president fairly. 

"I tend to consider the degree to which papers have demonstrated to covering the White House regularly and fairly in determining local pool reporters," spokesman Matt Lehrich told the Herald in response to its request, according to the newspaper. "My point about the op-ed was not that you ran it, but that it was the full front page, which excluded any coverage of the visit of a sitting U.S. President to Boston. I think that raises a fair question about whether the paper is unbiased in its coverage of the President's visits." 

However, the White House said Wednesday that the reason the Herald wasn't picked was because the Boston Globe had already signed up as part of the travel "pool," which lets one local reporter cover the news for all local media outlets so as to limit the number of people in the room.

"In this particular instance, the Boston Globe had arranged with the White House Correspondents Association, independent of the White House press office, to be part of the traveling press pool. As such, there was no need for an additional local pooler," said White House spokesman Josh Earnest. "As we have in the past -- including the multiple occasions on which the Herald has supplied local pool reporters -- we will continue to consider the Herald for local pool duty for future visits."

A White House aide also noted that while the White House thinks staff at the Boston Herald are routinely unfair to the president, the Herald has served as the travel pool for presidential visits in the past, including to Martha's Vineyard.

With the White House offering varying explanations, media analysts said they were unclear exactly why the Herald request was denied and questioned the logic in bringing up the months-old Romney column. 

Dan Kennedy, a Northeastern University journalism professor and media critic, noted that the White House has the "right" to pick and choose who goes in the pool, and that the Herald is not entitled to be in the pool every time. 

However, Kennedy said the Herald should get its crack at pool coverage occasionally and the White House should not factor in political considerations when making those decisions. 

"You would like to think that they're going to do it in an apolitical way, without regard for who they think their friends are and who they think their enemies are," he said. "The thing that the White House did that I thought was the most stupid was to put in writing why they weren't in the pool." 

Kennedy also questioned why the Herald chose to run the Romney op-ed on the front page back in March, but noted that Romney has gotten grilled on the Herald's tabloid front plenty of times. 

"Everybody gets their turn ... on the front page of the Herald," Kennedy said. 

Tim Graham, a media analyst with the conservative Media Research Center, also said that while the White House has the right to decide pool coverage, citing political considerations makes them look "small." 

"They're looking to manage the press down to the smallest detail," Graham said. "If you're not willing to suggest that Obama is some combination of Lincoln and JFK, you're not allowed in." 

In this case, the Herald was trying to assign one of its reporters to cover parts of Obama's Democratic National Committee fundraiser in Boston Wednesday evening that aren't open to the rest of the media. The Herald claimed it had been "bypassed" for pool duty the last two times Obama visited the area. 

In a written statement, Herald Editor Joe Sciacca said: "We will always fight for fair access to presidential visits and other important events and we will not be intimidated by attempts to affect our news decisions." 

This isn't the first time the Obama White House has had run-ins with pool reporters. The White House chided The San Francisco Chronicle last month after its reporter videotaped and posted a mini-protest at an Obama fundraiser, apparently in violation of the pool rules. 

Another reporter for The Orlando Sentinel was kept in a storage closet during a Florida fundraiser attended by Vice President Biden in March. Biden's office afterward apologized, calling the decision to hold the reporter a "mistake."