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A ‘purveyor of fake news’ may get White House press credentials

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Stephen K. Bannon talks with Jim Hoft, author at The Gateway Pundit, and radio host Gary Bauer at the 2016 Republican Convention. (Photo by Ben Jackson/Getty Images for SiriusXM)

By Ese Olumhense

Expansion of Conservative Media ‘Vital to Keeping the Public Informed’

As part of a planned expansion of its coverage, conservative news blog The Gateway Pundit is reportedly working to secure permanent White House press credentials. If successful, the site could join the ranks of Huffington Post and Buzzfeed as digital-native outlets which secured ongoing access to White House press briefings, and are part of the rotating pool of reporters that travel with the president and brief the rest of the media. (Permanent White House credentials are issued by the administration, and are a requirement for pool duty, which is determined by the White House Correspondents Association.)

In a Friday statement to its readers, Gateway Pundit founder Jim Hoft said: “With the false narratives that the liberal media is continuously spinning, we see the expansion of more conservative new media as vital to keeping the public truly informed. The best way for us to serve you and bring as much information to you as possible it [sic] through solid reporting from the capital.”

Hoft and Lucian Wintrich, a conservative writer and artist recently hired as Gateway Pundit’s Washington correspondent, attended a presidential press conference Monday on a day pass, which is available to many media outlets. Neither Hoft nor Wintrich responded to a request for comment.

The possible credentialing of Gateway Pundit, which became prominent for its provocative, pro-Trump coverage during the election, is symbolic of the White House’s shift from traditional media toward outwardly right-wing outlets. The site has been dubbed a “purveyor of fake news,” even by conservative journalists.

Earlier this month, conservative radio show host Lars Larson was one of the first “Skype correspondents” to join the White House press briefing.

As Web Traffic Drives Journalism’s Growth, Changes Are Slower At The White House

The presence of web-only outlets in the White House press corps is not new. Under Obama, digital outlets like Real Clear Politics and Yahoo News earned seats in the press briefing room, and Talking Points Memo, Salon and Huffington Post participated in the press pool. Gateway Pundit, founded in 2004, would not be the youngest of this new school of correspondents, but it would be the most right-leaning by a wide breadth.

As web publications continue to drive growth in journalism, an increasing number of them are likely to get access to the White House briefings. More American adults consume news from digital sources (38 percent) than they do from print (20 percent) or radio (25 percent), recent research shows, and more and more are relying on digital sources to follow developments in big stories.

With technologies like Skype expanding the capacity of remote journalists to participate in press briefings, the White House has said it will lean heavily on those tools to reach audiences.

Despite this, there have been no announced changes to the long-standing policy for securing permanent White House media credentials, which requires approval for a congressional gallery press pass from the 5-person Standing Committee of Correspondents. Membership in the galleries is limited by Senate Rules to “full-time, paid correspondents of recognized news organizations.” Applicants must reside in Washington, D.C., and not be involved in any paid lobbying or advocacy. There is then a Secret Service background check required to obtain a so-called “hard pass,” or permanent press credential at the White House.

It’s unclear if Wintrich would qualify under those standards.

A Delegitimized Press Pool?

Though credential policy has not changed, the Trump administration’s strained relationship with journalists could prompt a break with established procedure. Alternatively, Wintrich’s strategy might be to utilize day passes — which are easier to secure — to do a “little trolling of the media,” which he told The New York Times Monday was part of his plan.

But even with a day pass, Wintrich could enjoy the same embrace from the podium given to conservative reporters by other administrations. Famously, James Guckert — using the name Jeff Gannon — of the now-defunct conservative blog “Talon News” secured day passes for close to two years, starting in 2003, and was able to ask then-President Bush what other reporters called “softball” questions.

Though Guckert’s access (particularly after he became involved in a sex scandal) concerned board members of the White House Correspondents Association at the time, it abstained from asking for any role in the permanent or day pass credentialing process, opting instead to remain independent of the White House’s procedure.

Critics worry that Gateway Pundit — which Trump has consistently cited could easily get the same kind of access. That, these critics suggest, would legitimize the site’s often controversial and sometimes unsubstantiated pro-Trump reporting.

In January, after Hoft announced Gateway Pundit’s Washington, D.C. expansion, Media Matters for America — a “progressive research and information center” now dedicated to monitoring “conservative misinformation” — published a list of more than 20 stories published by Gateway Pundit that it described as “absurdly wrong.” Permanent access to the press pool, Media Matters suggests, would further add to the administration’s onslaught on the media.