DANANG, Vietnam — Nearly all U.S. journalists covering President Donald Trump’s appearance at a major economic summit in Vietnam were barred from attending key events Friday and Saturday, including photo-ops featuring interactions between Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin, a situation the White House later pledged to take action to avoid happening again.
The small group of reporters who track Trump’s movements abroad, known as the travel pool, was largely relegated to a holding room on Saturday while nearly two dozen world leaders posed for photographs and mingled at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum in Danang.
A Fox News video crew and an official White House photographer were granted access to the meetings. Fox was the news organization that was tasked with providing pool video to other news outlets. But the rest of the pool reporters, including independent photographers from U.S. news organizations, were blocked from covering the event.
A similar situation unfolded Friday night, when planned coverage of an APEC dinner with Trump and other leaders was scrapped, leaving print reporters, photographers and other members of the pool without the ability to cover the event.
New York Times photographer Doug Mills, who is traveling with the president as part of the pool, tweeted his frustration at the lack of access, with an image of a black square attached.
“This what our APEC Summit photo coverage looks today (sic) in Da Nang Vietnam. Blank. No coverage by the White House Travel Pool photographers traveling with @realDonaldTrump.”
The White House said it asked for more access for pool reporters, but was denied.
White House press secretary Sarah Sanders addressed the issue with reporters aboard Air Force One later Saturday, saying that one reason Trump gaggled with reporters was because he was made aware of press concerns about access, adding she wasn’t aware of the APEC situation until after it happened.
Sanders pledged to push for more access ahead of the president’s arrival in Manila, Philippines, pledging more communication with pool reporters and photographers on logistics and access.
Margaret Talev, president of the White House Correspondents’ Association, told POLITICO:
“The WHCA has been in discussions for months with the White House about maximizing open press coverage wherever possible throughout the Asia trip and trying to accommodate the full travel pool in pooled events. While there has been a history of some host countries pushing back against the size of the US footprint and while APEC historically has limited some pool sizes, we are concerned that access on this trip has eroded more significantly and that notice about changes or new coverage restrictions has often come with too short of notice to be able to react effectively.
“We were disappointed in the decision not to hold a joint news conference in China and subsequently we encouraged the White House to schedule a unilateral news conference with President Trump. We appreciate the developments of the past few hours including Sarah Sanders’ statement to the pool and the president’s concurrent decision to take questions from reporters.”
Friday and Saturday’s APEC events attracted worldwide attention, in part because Trump and Putin briefly interacted. The two men shook hands on Friday night and they were later seen chatting during Saturday’s events. The White House said earlier Friday that the two men would not have a bilateral meeting, but might talk on the sidelines of the summit.
Putin and Trump’s interactions appeared to be more substantial than what was captured by the few journalists permitted to witness them. The Kremlin on Saturday released a joint Russia-U.S. statement on Syria that a Russian government spokesman said was finalized during the two leaders’ discussions here.
The travel pool is comprised of a rotating group of print reporters, wire service reporters, photographers, videographers and radio reporters. The journalists document the president’s activities and distribute reports to thousands of journalists around the country. News outlets who can’t afford the high cost of traveling with the president rely on the reports to inform the public about Trump’s activities.
Despite the limited access at APEC, Trump administration officials sought to expand pool coverage during previous legs of the trip. In China, for example, White House aides successfully rebuffed efforts by Chinese handlers to limit the number of U.S. reporters who could cover certain events.
But the White House also acquiesced to a Chinese demand that Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping take no questions during a joint appearance earlier this week, breaking with past precedent.
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