White House Press Complain About Access

The infamous groundhog Punxsutawney Phil may have spotted his shadow yesterday signifying an early spring but it remains to be seen how quickly relations thaw between the press corps and the White House.

People around the world have been watching the reports of tens of thousands of Egyptians flooding the streets of Cairo calling for a regime change. The White House response to the clash between anti-government protestors and supporters of President Hosni Mubarak has been guarded, making few statements on what is being called a major foreign policy crisis.

Left without substantive updates on the situation in Egypt and shut out from the President’s Cabinet meeting on Tuesday, the White House Correspondents Association sent a letter to Press Secretary Robert Gibbs complaining that “for two straight days the full press pool is being shut out of events that have typically been open and provided opportunities try to ask the President a question.”

The letter, written by WHCA Executive Director Julia Whitson, was sent in advance of the President’s signing of the New START Treaty, the new nuclear arms reduction pact with Russia.

“We are writing to protest in the strongest possible terms the White House’s decision to close the President’s Cabinet meeting on Tuesday and his signing of the START Treaty today to the full press pool.

The START treaty was held up as one of the President’s most important foreign policy priorities for almost a year dating back to the trip to Prague last spring. We are concerned that now his signing of it is open to still photographers but closed to editorial, including print and wire reporters and television cameras.” Read the full letter at mediabistro.com.

In the end, the White House stuck by its decision and allowed only a small group of photographers into the Oval Office for the signing of the treaty.

As reported in The Hill, Gibbs said the decision to keep reporters out of the signing was based on fear they would shout questions to the President about Egypt, and continued to defend the decision by stating it was “part of the coverage plans that have been in place for a bit now.”

According to the Old Farmer’s Almanac, March 20th is the first day of spring…

White House Reporters Take Their (new) Seats

White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs wasted no time in pointing out that the press corps was decked out in their “Sunday best” for the debut of the new seating arrangements in the James S. Brady Briefing Room. With the President traveling in Atlanta, GA on Monday there was no daily briefing back in Washington, DC. But on Tuesday it was back to business.

“Church is full today,” joked Gibbs. “That’s good to see.” Here’s the briefing from C-SPAN.

Most eyes were on the Associated Press who now occupy the front row, center seat once warmed by Helen Thomas – but there were several changes made by the White House Correspondents Association and a whole new seating chart – one that may require a booster seat as Gibbs pointed out to America Urban Radio Networks’ April Ryan who could barely see the podium from her spot behind NPR reporter Ari Shaprio.

“Ms. Ryan, you’re going to have to ask that gentleman in front of you to sit down a little,” joked Gibbs. “He’s a little on the tall side.”

Ryan moved up from the fourth row to the middle of the third row next to Politico, which also moved up from fourth to third row. That put Ryan directly behind NPR, one of the contenders for the Thomas perch. NPR was given Fox’s old seat in the second row, directly behind the newly ensconced AP. Fox moved up to the first row in the old AP seat. Got it?

Hank-ering For A Cup Of Coffee

Tom Hanks feels for the “poor slobs” of the White House Press Corps.

The Academy Award winning actor said as much while checking out the old Pony Express espresso machine he bought in 2004 for the hardworking men and women of the Fourth Estate after noticing they didn’t have a proper source of java.

Hanks couldn’t resist visiting the press room last month to see if the coffee maker was still there while at the White House for a special screening of HBO’s “The Pacific” with President Barack Obama.

Director Steven Spielberg and Hanks are Executive Producers of the ten-part WWII miniseries now airing on HBO.

Hanks showed off the coffee maker to pal Spielberg, along with their wives, actresses Rita Wilson and Kate Capshaw. He also promised to send the press corps a new one after declaring that “this one is on its last legs.”

Well, despite a question of ethics jokingly raised by veteran CBS News White House correspondent Mark Knoller (to which Hanks replied: “It’s just a gift — it’s not like it’s a pizza oven.”) Hanks has made good on his promise: a shiny new coffee maker and personal note from the actor were delivered this afternoon.

A-List Journos Back WH Press Corps

When Wonkette founder and Air America correspondent Ana Marie Cox called for the end of the White House press corps, Washington Monthly chimed in with just get rid of the briefings. Where better to get an opinion on this touchy topic than at The Week magazine’s sixth annual Opinion Awards? A-list journalists from Harry Evans to Mika Brzezinski weighed in on the debate Monday night.