When the White House Correspondents Association meets for its annual dinner on Saturday night, don’t expect to see Askia Muhammad, who says his White House press credential “was not renewed last month, after 30 years, and being renewed 14 times, by the last five White House press offices, including three times by ‘Bush 43.”
Muhammad, who reports for broadcast outlets as well as the Final Call and Washington Informer newspapers, is one of the latest victims of Secret Service efforts to trim the number of White House reporters who hold permanent press credentials. The efforts began during the Clinton years, but accelerated after Sept. 11, 2001, reporters say.
“The Secret Service has indicated over the last several years that they want to see a reduction in the hard passes,” which gain reporters quicker entry at the White House gates, Steve Scully of C-Span, president of the White House Correspondents Association, told Journal-isms.
Martha Kumar author of the upcoming book, “Managing the President’s Message,” says the number of accredited journalists at the White House has been “sharply reduced.”
The Secret Service is counting the number of times the pass is used and failing to renew the passes of those who use it “infrequently,” Scully said, adding that “infrequently” has not been defined. “We prefer to use the system as it is,” but “we have to live with the process of the White House.” All his group can do is warn its members.
Sonya Ross, news editor – regionals in the Associated Press Washington bureau, said she got tired of going to the White House simply to keep her credentials up. She no longer covers the building, and said that in any case the pass was no longer good for taking visitors to the annual Easter egg roll, or guiding people on tours. And journalistically, “The White House is definitely a news-free zone,” she said.
Muhammad, who said he went to the White House “not more than once or twice a month” because it lacks sufficient work space “for use of those who are not in the coterie,” is not a member of the White House Correspondents Association. That organization also relegates non-daily reporters like him to second-tier status, he said.
“I wrote the White House Press Office in JANUARY, concerning credential renewal. It did not expire until March 30. They never said a mumbling word at that time, concerning roll being taken in order to be accredited again. That’s the outrage,” Muhammad said by e-mail. April Ryan, who covers the White House for American Urban Radio networks, said of the executive mansion, “It’s a very strange place to work. Things are not necessarily told. You can find things out just by hearing things in the wind.”
Muhammad sees a racial element at work. “Although I have been kicked out of fancier parties than this one, I resent the decision,” he continued. “I think it is insensitive because there are so few Blacks accredited to begin with, and . . . April Ryan with American Urban Radio, is the only other person accredited to a Black news outlet,” he said.
He won’t miss not being at the annual correspondents dinners. He hadn’t been going anyway.