President Obama is scheduled to appear before hundreds of donors at a $7,500-a-plate noontime fundraiser today at San Francisco's W Hotel - but not a single local reporter will be allowed inside to cover his only stop in the area, the White House said Monday.Just imagine if Bush pulled such a pussy move.
Coverage instead is being restricted to a small pool of Washington-based reporters - a move that is a sharp departure from the practices of past administrations, political observers said.
Three former top White House press aides called the move insular and politically short-sighted. And some press watchers said it is hypocritical for an administration that Obama promised would be "the most transparent in history."
The White House declined Monday to say why no local reporters would be allowed to attend today's event, nor whether the ban on local media was part of a new national policy.
"As per usual, the White House traveling press pool will cover the President's remarks at his Bay Area campaign event and a transcript of his speech will be circulated to local and national media outlets," White House spokesman Adam Abrams wrote in an e-mail response to The Chronicle.
But barring local reporters from presidential events is not usual at all, according to veterans of past White House press operations and longtime Bay Area journalists.
Until recently, The Chronicle and other Bay Area papers including the Oakland Tribune and the San Jose Mercury News regularly served as local pool reporters in their home regions, feeding coverage of events to other media. Local journalists generally know big-monied donors and political players best.
Nicolle Wallace, a former press secretary to Republican President George W. Bush, called the ban "idiotic ... inexplicable on the politics side, let alone the press side."
"For a Democrat to go to San Francisco and not invite the local press is like George W. Bush going to Crawford, Texas" and doing the same, she said. "This is a place where people want to be reminded about what they love about the guy."
Chris Lehane, a former spokesman for Democratic President Bill Clinton, was also baffled by the move, saying they always had local pools.
"It's not only the right thing to do in terms of respecting the Fourth Estate, but it typically translates into better press coverage," he said. "It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that access results in the occupying of more real estate in the newspaper and on television."
"It seems the Obama campaign has calculated that taking a small hit from political reporters being denied access is a safer course of action than opening the event to reporters and cameras and risking an embarrassing YouTube moment," said former longtime KTVU-TV political editor Randy Shandobil.