“Pools are the direct link between the White House and the public without a governmental lens or filter,” said Ari Fleischer, a former press secretary for George W. Bush. “Regardless of how biased you think the press is or is not, the pool is a direct set of independent eyeballs on the president of the United States.”
It is also typically a coveted assignment. But this week, at least seven major news outlets declined to accept one of the available press seats on Mr. Trump’s plane, according to people familiar with internal planning discussions. Publications including BuzzFeed News, The Los Angeles Times, Politico and Hearst Newspapers have declined pool slots in recent days.
“White House reporters had safety concerns and were not comfortable traveling with the president at this time,” Elisabeth Bumiller, the Times’s Washington bureau chief, said in a statement on Monday. The paper’s chief White House correspondent, Peter Baker, recently informed the correspondents’ association of its decision to temporarily forgo pool duties.
The Journal declined to comment. A spokeswoman for The Post said, “We continue to evaluate our coverage plans.” A Trump spokesman, Judd Deere, said the White House press office and the correspondents’ association were “in regular discussions to ensure that all those traveling in the protective pool feel safe to do so.”
Some journalists said they had hoped the correspondents’ association would lobby more aggressively on their behalf, urging the group, which negotiates for access and proper working conditions, to do more to protect them.
Zeke Miller, an Associated Press reporter who is president of the association, told members last week that he spoke frequently with White House aides about health and safety concerns. “While we know no situation is 100 percent safe in a pandemic, it is our expectation that the pool will not be put in an unduly risky position,” Mr. Miller wrote in a memo.
Reporters at the White House, though, were alarmed this weekend to see Mr. Trump’s virus adviser, Dr. Scott W. Atlas, without a face covering. And when Mr. Trump’s chief of staff, Mark Meadows, was approached by journalists on Monday on Capitol Hill, he objected when told to keep wearing his face covering.