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Bush session with reporters was strictly off-the-record
Jason Rhyne
Published: Friday November 2, 2007
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Fourteen White House reporters were given a rare hour of access to President Bush on Monday, but the issues they discussed won't be making any headlines -- the session was all off-the-record.

The informal meeting, as reported by the Los Angeles Times, took place as part of a new White House plan to reach out to the press without having to rely on "full-blown news conferences."

"He did the same in September, speaking aboard Air Force One with reporters while traveling to Sydney, Australia, from Iraq's Anbar Province," wrote the paper's James Gerstenzang.

An additional nine reporters were invited to the Oval Office on Thursday to "preview" President Bush's speech to the Heritage Foundation, in which he defended attorney general pick, Michael Mukasey, and characterized "some in Washington" as listening more to and the anti-war group Code Pink than to "warnings of terrorists like Osama Bin Laden."

Although that particular session was on-the-record, it was "off-camera."

"Thursday's effort was one of several recent steps he has taken to amplify his message as he wrestles with his lame-duck status, low approval ratings and increasingly independent congressional Republicans," according to the LA Times.

White House Press Secretary Dana Perino told the paper that the meetings were part of "a desire to be creative to try to provide some access to the president...It was just a new tool we'd like to have in our toolbox."

Off-the-record "reach outs" are not a new tack from the Bush administration. In March 2006, the president conducted similar invited sessions with an assortment of media outlets.

"The meetings, which the journalists have agreed not to describe publicly, have been in the White House residence," reported the New York Times last year. "They come as several news organizations have assigned new reporters, who had no relationship with Mr. Bush, to cover the White House."

The Times itself chose not to participate in those talks.

"The Times has declined this opportunity after weighing the potential benefits to our readers against the prospect of withholding information from them about the discussion with Mr. Bush," stated the paper's Washington bureau chief, Philip Taubman, at the time. "As a matter of policy and practice, we would prefer when possible to conduct on-the-record interviews with public officials."

But Taubman, along with Times executive editor Bill Keller and publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr., did reportedly agree to keep mum about a closed door session with the president in 2005.

According to sources cited by the Washington Post's Howard Kurtz, President Bush met with the Times representatives prior to publication of the story that the president had authorized eavesdropping on Americans without the benefit of court orders. The Post's executive editor, Leonard Downie Jr., had a similar meeting that year just before that paper ran a piece about secret Eastern European prisons run by the CIA.

"But the meetings were confirmed by sources who have been briefed on them but are not authorized to comment because both sides had agreed to keep the sessions off the record," wrote Kurtz.