NEW YORK — For the second time in a week, president-elect Donald Trump has abandoned precedent and traveled without the “press pool,” a small group of journalists assigned to cover his movements.
His surprise trip on Tuesday evening was met by sharp criticism from some journalists.
Trump’s press secretary Hope Hicks told journalists around 6:15 p.m. that there was a “lid” for the night — a term of art meaning that no more news or travel was expected until Wednesday. Trump has been at Trump Tower for several days and has not been seen in public.
Later in the evening, however, Trump took his family to a nearby restaurant, the 21 Club, for dinner. The “pool” would have been ready to travel with him, but they were not notified. A Bloomberg staffer dining at the restaurant spotted Trump and tweeted a picture, sending journalists scrambling to catch up.
While Trump and his aides may delight in irritating journalists, the behavior breaks with well-established norms governing a president’s relationship with the press corps. Those same norms are also applicable to the president-elect.
While presidents often agitate for more privacy and freedom, and occasionally slip the press, the “pool” of journalists is a fixture of Secret Service motorcades.
The reporters and camera crews view themselves as a “conduit to the American people, so that everybody in the nation knows where he is,” NBC’s Hallie Jackson said on MSNBC.
Jackson quickly made a reservation at the 21 Club so that she could verify Trump was there. She said he was seated in the main dining room with his family.
To be clear, journalists aren’t seeking a seat at the dinner table with Trump. Normally the “pool” waits in a separate room or in a vehicle.
Former Bush administration press secretary Ari Fleischer wrote on Twitter that Trump’s aides should have told the press corps where the president-elect was going, following normal protocol.
“A press van would normally be included in the motorcade,” he wrote.
So what went wrong? Hicks told journalists that she did not know about Trump’s travel plans. She reiterated what she said last week after Trump traveled to Washington, D.C. without a “pool” — that the normal set-up will be put in place soon.
In an emergency, the “pool” quickly relays information, helping the president and his aides inform and reassure Americans. On a day-to-day basis, the “pool” keeps track of the president’s whereabouts and how he spends his time — useful information for the voters who elected him and the Americans who did not.
CNN’s Sara Murray told Anderson Cooper on Tuesday night that this “appears to be yet another misunderstanding of exactly how much gravity his new title as president-elect holds. If something, God forbid, were to happen to him, that’s a matter not only of public record but also a matter of national security, given that he is next in line to take the White House.”
Last week the White House Correspondents Association called the president-elect’s travel without journalists “unacceptable.”