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White House


The White House Correspondents' Association Pool Reports Collection is an initiative achieved through a partnership of the University of Maryland Philip Merrill College of Journalism and the University Libraries with the White House Correspondents' Association (WHCA).

The partners have developed this web-based digital archive of pool reports to provide a collection that is accessible and searchable by journalists, academic researchers, and members of the general public. The collection is a resource for all who are interested in journalism and U.S. presidential history.

This collection is comprised of email pool reports created while covering the U.S. President and Vice-President from June 27, 2020 through January 31, 2021. At the request of WHCA, these reports have been lightly redacted to remove personal information. Redacted elements include email addresses, phone numbers, and physical addresses. Social media handles and addresses have been retained. Born-digital pool reports disseminated as emails continue to be collected and are added periodically.  The most recent batch is called the Insurrection Files, as they cover the period of November 1, 2020 through January 31, 2021.

Digital aggregation of, indexing, and access to the WHCA Pool Reports collection from the University of Maryland Libraries are provided for educational, research, and journalistic purposes, under a license granted by the WHCA and by way of an assertion of fair use (17 U.S.C. 107). Written permission from the copyright owners and any other rights holders, as applicable, must be obtained for reuse of the WHCA Pool Reports content that extends beyond fair use or journalistic purposes. Individuals and organizations may contact the UMD Libraries with inquiries or comments about this collection. 

Things White House Pool

The WHCA was founded in 1914 during the first Wilson Administration, as a response to both a perceived need to “professionalize” the White House Press Corps by controlling access to press conferences, and as a strategic move during a journalistic “turf war” with the White House reporters’ Capitol Hill colleagues.

The first true Presidential Press Conferences – as we understand the term today -- had only begun the previous year, after Woodrow Wilson’s inauguration as the 28th President in March of 1913.  All proceeded amicably between President and Press until July 21, 1913, when a question on the violence then taking place in revolutionary Mexico led to an off-hand (and presumably off-the-record) remark by Wilson on the instability of the Mexican government.  When Wilson’s comment turned up in one of the New York afternoon papers, both he and his advisers were furious, with the President threatening to cancel all Press Conferences going forward.  Before the day had ended Wilson had received an apology from the editor of the paper in question, along with an unexpected letter from another quarter.

On Capitol Hill, the Standing Committee of Correspondents, which still controls access to the House and Senate Press Galleries today, saw an opportunity to bring the White House Press Corps under its jurisdiction.  A letter was quickly written apologizing to the President for the behavior of their colleagues and proposing new rules for Press Conferences.  The President acquiesced, and things again went along amicably as they had before.  In fact, the Press Conferences were quite popular, with attendance actually increasing over the next several months.  

Then on January 29, 1914, Wilson again felt his trust in the Press abused. That day, it became apparent that the swelling numbers of reporters at these events included not a few “tipsters” in the employ of stockbrokers, looking for any information that might affect the markets, as well as freelancers and stringers for dubious publications, and outright “phonies” who had lied about their credentials in order to see the President.  Wilson again threatened to stop holding Press Conferences unless the Press could do a better job policing themselves. 

The Standing Committee of Correspondents seemed eager to expand their role and begin vetting attendees, but this time the White House Correspondents were better prepared.  They had met and composed a charter for a new organization empowered to both enforce rules of professionalism and decorum and to better regulate who would be admitted to these events.  They called it the White House Correspondents’ Association, and on February 25, 1914 the charter was duly signed by President Wilson and witnessed by his personal secretary, bringing this important organization to life. Ironically, after the winding road that led to its creation, unforeseen circumstances almost led to an early end for the WHCA.

With war in Europe raging by the end of 1914, Press Conferences began to seem like a treacherous minefield for the President.  When Germany sank the British liner Lusitania in May of 1915, killing 1195 passengers, including 123 Americans, Wilson canceled his Press Conferences for reasons of national security. For the next five and a half years, the organization was moribund.  It was not until Warren Harding took office in 1921 that Presidential Press Conferences resumed. Later that year, the WHCA held the first of their famous dinners, and the rest as they say, is history.

by Chuck Howell

Odds are, you’ve seen reporters peppering White House officials with questions at televised briefings or talking with the president aboard Air Force One when they accompany him on his travels. Most of these reporters belong to the White House Correspondents’ Association. For more than 100 years, the association has helped to create transparency at the highest levels of American government by encouraging its journalists to thoroughly report on the president and vice president.

The U.S. Constitution, through the First Amendment, guarantees freedom of the press, a cornerstone of American democracy. Reporting on the White House is one way members of the press exercise that freedom.  It is important that the association — and its 400 members gathering news for television, print, radio and the internet — works independently of the White House. Association members work for outlets based in the United States and every continent around the world, excluding Antarctica.

The press corps regularly covering the White House created the association in 1914. The first thing the nascent organization did was ensure that only accredited reporters attended news briefings.  Since its creation, the association has worked to broaden access and to support reporting. It backs its members in court if they need support. It also determines who sits where in the White House briefing room while staffing a rotating “press pool” of journalists who follow the president. The pool is made up of 13 to 20 journalists who cover events and file reports for use by the rest of the journalists,

The association started out all male and all white. The first female member was likely Cora Rigby of the Christian Science Monitor, who joined in the 1920s, according to research the association is compiling on its history. Reporter Harry S. McAlpin Jr. of the National Negro Publishers Association broke the press corps’ color line in 1944 when President Franklin Delano Roosevelt invited him to cover his Oval Office news conference, despite the association’s refusal to admit McAlpin. In 2014, the association named a college scholarship after McAlpin and granted him a posthumous membership.  Louis Lautier succeeded McAlpin as the National Negro Publishers Association’s Washington correspondent and became the White House Correspondents’ Association’s first Black member in 1951, according to the association’s research.

To qualify for regular membership today, journalists must cover the White House as their main beat and work for a news-gathering organization that regularly reports on it. The applicant or news outlet must also be credentialed by the congressional Standing Committee of Correspondents. Its five committee members are journalists (elected by other journalists to two-year terms) who credential reporters to cover Congress.

Since 1991, the group has helped up-and-coming journalists by awarding scholarships to undergraduate and graduate students studying journalism at American universities, including the Francis J. Cormier White House Correspondents’ Association Scholarship in the Phillip Merrill College of Journalism. Established in 1991 by the White House Correspondents’ Association, this award was renamed in 1994 to honor the memory of Francis J. Cormier, who for two decades exemplified the best qualities of White House correspondents with a blend of gentleness, humor and professionalism that endeared him to the readers of his dispatches for The Associated Press. This renewable scholarship is awarded to four undergraduate students, each year there will be a freshman, sophomore, junior and senior, but only one student changes each year. Scholarships help students learn about reporting on politics, government or foreign policy. 

This article has been excerpted and adapted from "What is the White House Correspondents' Association" by Lenor T. Adkins. 28, 2021

Interestingly, a number of terms or expressions used by the Press Corps are water-related, including  “Press Pool” itself - see below

Backgrounder - this term usually refers to an “off-the-record” conversation or briefing to a select group of reporters.  A backgrounder is never broadcast directly, and the briefer is not named in any subsequent reporting, often being referred to as an “administration official.”  Other restrictions, such as prohibitting direct quotes, may be invoked.  Reporters who attend a backgrounder often chafe at the restrictions, and worry that they are being “spun” by government officials, but it can be the only way to obtain certain types of information.  A backgrounder can also refer to a packet of information shared with reporters to assist in writing about an organization or event.

Gaggle or Press Gaggle - an informal briefing or short interaction before an official briefing between the Press Secretary and the Press Pool ( as opposed to the full Press Corps), usually on Air Force One.  Unlike a “backgrounder” a “gaggle” is on-the-record, but no video is allowed.  Another water-adjacent term, it likens the Press to a gaggle of noisy geese.

Leak - a “leak” is the unauthorized release of confidential or secret information, usually of an unfavorable nature, to the wider public, often through the media.  A leak may be deliberate or accidental, illegal or, in the case of a “whistleblower,” legal.  A purposeful leak is almost always done anonymously, and is meant to achieve a specific outcome, such as damaging a political opponent or moving public opinion on a policy decision.  Politicians, and especially Presidents, can view leaks coming from their own offices or administrations as a form of betrayal, taking sometimes extreme steps to stop them and uncover those responsible.  Richard Nixon’s extralegal “Plumbers” (people who stop leaks), led by G. Gordon Liddy, were originally tasked with investigating the leak of the so-called Pentagon Papers, but soon escalated their activities to include burglary and breaking into the Headquarters of the Democratic National Committee at the Watergate office complex.

Lid or Full Lid - also “lifting” the lid - a “lid” is invoked by the White House Press Secretary or their Deputy when the public activities of the President are concluded and no more news is expected from the White House that day. A “lid” being called or announced doesn’t necessarily mean the President and his staff are not working or meeting, just that no public announcements or activities will take place.  The lid can be “lifted” and the Press summoned back to work if circumstances change. The calling of a lid or “full lid” gives reporters confidence that they can file their reporting without missing any additional developments.

Friday News Dump - a venerable Washington tradition, this refers to the practice of releasing multiple pieces of bad news all at one time.  That time, late on a Friday afternoon, is chosen specifically to deny television news enough lead time to cover it that night, and in the hope that  the news will be buried in Saturday’s papers.

Not for Attribution - perhaps the most restrictive arrangement a journalist can agree to, a not for attribution briefing cannot be directly reported on in any way.  The reporter can make use of the information, but cannot reveal how they obtained it, or even acknowledge the briefing took place.  This makes it difficult to report on, but it can inform a journalist's thinking or confirm that they are on the right track. As with off-the-record (below) there is sometimes misunderstanding over what the term actually means, and these two terms are often confused in the mind of the public as well as politicians. 

Off-the-record - this term refers to the sharing of often sensitive information by an individual who wishes to remain anonymous.  Anonymity is usually requested to protect the source from various types of reprisal.  Importantly, off-the record does not mean the information cannot be reported, just that the source will be concealed.  For a conversation to be officially off-the-record both the reporter and source must agree to the arrangement at the outset.

Pen and pad briefing - similar to a backgrounder, it is a briefing where no video or photography is allowed. It is an older term of art from the days before pocket recorders and smartphones with audio recording apps, which are now usually allowed to take the place of the reporter's notebook.

Photo-op - a staged opportunity for the press to get photos or shoot video for the purpose of raising the profile of a politician. Short for “Photo Opportunity.”

Press Pool - though discussed elsewhere on this site (link), it is worth noting though the idea of “pooling” resources - meaning sharing and/or combining - predates the coinage of the term Press Pool (in which a small part of the entire Press Corps shares their reporting with the whole), some say there is a different etymology at work.  The White House Briefing Room is actually built on top of the swimming pool installed for the use of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt during his first term, so today's Press Corps stands inches above this still-intact pool while asking questions of the administration.  They are indeed the Press Pool.

Spray or Media Spray - a "spray," takes place when a small "pool" of journalists is given access to the participants at the beginning or end of an otherwise private conference or meeting, usually for the purpose of taking photos or shooting video. Sprays happen in such places as the Oval Office, at Cabinet meetings, etc.

Thanks to Taegan Goddard’s Political Dictionary - - which served as an invaluable resource in defining some of these terms - Chuck Howel

Innovative Technology and Digital Tools Being Developed at the University Libraries

Emails are a born-digital media that have much in common with websites. There are a number of issues when accessioning email into a digital library; uniform display formatting regardless of original creation platform, redaction of personal information, and providing stable URLs for embedded links and images.  In order to process email messages it makes sense to leverage web technologies, however, an efficient tool is not yet available.  As part of the Pool Reports Collection, the University of Maryland Libraries are developing such a tool not only for this collection but for future email digital collections.  Our hope is to disseminate this tool as an open resource to the Archival community.

by Timothy Kanke

 email processing model diagram

  1. Capture: automatically collect messages and download them in an archive format.
  2. Extract: collect linked resources and prep messages for processing.
  3. Clean: unify the HTML structure to aid the redaction.
  4. Redact: identify and automatically redact personal identification information (PII) such as reporter contact information. Overall, the script is effective, however, because accuracy remains low for PII type: Address, manual review is necessary.
  5. Convert: prepare messages for import to the digital repository.
  6. Import: adds messages to the website.

by Timothy Kanke

PII is any information that can help identify an individual including names, addresses, banking information, social security numbers. Redaction is used to protect privacy.

For the Pool Reports Collection, only some contact information of reporters is of concern. Redacted information is represented by black squares on the individual messages within the searchable digital collection.

by Timothy Kanke

There are a number of ways redaction is currently achieved in archival collections.

One of the oldest methods of redacting PII uses a black marker to hide the information on a paper-based medium. In fact, some institutions still print, mark by hand, and scan documents to redact PII. Some collections are limited to reading room viewing. This has the benefit of registering reading viewers and documenting non-disclosure agreements. The Pool Reports Collections is open access via the web, so a more refined method needed to be developed.

While there are available open-source tools developed to process email, none of them have focused on automated PII redaction. The UMD email processing and redaction tool in development is HTML-based. This allows PII to be redacted and email items will be properly displayed on websites. When completed, the UMD email processing and redaction tool will benefit other collections and the archiving community.

by Timothy Kanke

Citation Guidelines

White House Correspondents Association Pool Reports Collection. University of Maryland Libraries. Accessed [Month, Day, Year]. 

*Bracketed information is supplied by the person creating the citation.

White House Correspondents Association Pool Reports Collection. University of Maryland Libraries. Accessed March 8, 2021. 

[Author’s  Surname], [Author’s First Name]. “[Email Subject.]” [Email Date]. Email. White House Correspondents Association Pool Reports Collection. University of Maryland Libraries. Accessed [Date]. 

*Bracketed information is supplied by the person creating the citation.

Samuels, Brett. “In-town pool report #7: Details on Walter Reed visit.” July 10, 2020. Email. White House Correspondents Association Pool Reports Collection. University of Maryland Libraries. Accessed March 8, 2021.


The University Libraries is pleased to announce the major upgrade to the Pool Reports Digital Collection Website!  This new iteration is greatly enhanced with content about the White House Correspondents' Association, Profiles of past and present White House Pool Reporters, Feature stories on a variety of related topics (including bibliographies for further study), News and Press Releases…

Categories: Updates

As of May 15, 2023, the Auto-redaction accuracy for Private Identifying Information type, phone number, reached nearly 100%. Using the Insurrection files (2020-11, 2020-12, and 2021-01)  as a sample the auto-redaction script achieved improved accuracy overall.

Auto-redaction Accuracy by PII Type
Author Phone Number auto-Redacted 97.21%
Author Email Address auto-Redacted 90…

Categories: Updates

Pool Reports from November 2020 through January 2021 have been uploaded.  This is the period between the 2020 Presidential Election and the Inauguration of the 46th United State President Joseph Biden.  It details former President Donald J. Trump's actions during a period his campaign was trying to disrupt the peaceful transfer of power, seriously threatening the American democratic…

Categories: Updates