White House to Kick Out Press Corps -- For Renovations

December 27th, 2005 10:54 AM
Well, that's not completely true, but we can dream, can't we? This summer the White House press room will be undergoing a complete renovation, which means the various talking heads of the press corps will be moved across the street to the Jackson House and out of the White House. For about seven months, peace will reign in the Executive Mansion.

This will not be a small job:

The room is, quite literally, a fire hazard, with wires fraying and cameras, cords and equipment piled throughout. It has all the comforts of a 1970s schoolroom: cramped, ergonomically challenged desks and seats for reporters, and no high-speed Internet access. If this sounds like whining from a pampered reporter, here's more to stew over: The renovation will be paid for largely by taxpayers.

"You will pleased to hear since this project is at the government's initiative, the government will bear the great bulk of the cost," Mark Smith, president of the White House Correspondents Association, wrote to reporters last week.

A cost estimate was not available.

If you think the press should pay a price for all of this, don't worry: The cost includes the removal of cancer-causing asbestos. Media companies will pay to wire the new and improved press room and the temporary shelter, which is off the west side of Lafayette Square.

As part of the makeover, the government plans to rip up the wooden floor that covers the famous swimming pool built for President Franklin D. Roosevelt in the 1930s. In its place will be a steel-and-concrete floor designed to accommodate wiring and equipment below -- without the fear of setting the place on fire. The goal is to bring into the 21st century a room ordered by President Richard M. Nixon and opened in 1970.

It's nothing new for the TV guys to work outside the walls of the White House. This past summer while visiting Washington I noted the TV gaggle on the north lawn of the White House.  The reporters usually do their stand-ups out there with the north portico as their backdrop. 

Hugh Hewitt suggests that the White House create a "bloggers row" in the new press room and make some space for the new media. Memo to White House: I'm available.

Some of the press are fearful their exile may be permanent:

Reporters, who have resisted previous efforts by the White House to kick the media off campus, are not objecting to the changes, though some fear that the White House could make the temporary move permanent. There's reason for fear. As first lady, Hillary Rodham Clinton proposed ousting the media and opening the swimming pool, according to George Stephanopoulos's memoir. It's also no secret the Bush people don't care much for the Washington press.

"As to opposition, I'd say there hasn't been much," Smith said. "In fact, the only outright 'no' I've heard has been from [CBS reporter Mark] Knoller, who says after all the time, effort and money is spent, within a few weeks we'll have turned it into the same old dump."
Based on Knoller's comments, would you want these people in your house? I wouldn't blame the White House at all if they drag their feet on the completion of this project as long as they can.