A key aspect to grasp regarding White House reporting is that the system is designed to favor establishment and corporate media entities. Despite common assumptions, the administration occupying the White House has a relatively limited role in dictating press access.

While they do determine who receives a press pass, most decisions regarding coverage are delegated to the White House Correspondents Association (WHCA).

The WHCA is responsible for arranging the seating chart in the briefing room, which determines which reporters are most likely to be called upon by the press secretary.

Correspondents from prominent broadcast and cable networks are situated in the front rows, while only a couple of conservative outlets are granted seats, positioned towards the back. Other reporters must stand in the aisles, jostling for space and hoping to be called upon.

The Daily Caller recently gained a seat in the briefing room, which was not the case when I covered the White House. Additionally, The Spectator does not have a seat in the briefing room.

During the Trump administration, getting a decent spot in an aisle during press briefings required arriving an hour early to secure a spot, while reporters with designated seats could arrive just minutes before the briefing.

This arrangement placed conservative and independent outlets, who were relegated to standing in the aisles, at a disadvantage as they were out of the press secretary’s line of sight. As a result, the corporate media tended to dominate the questioning, leading to repetitive and predictable inquiries.

In February 2022, the WHCA redesigned its seating chart for the first time in five years. The first three rows are reserved for major outlets, including NBC News, Fox News, CBS News, the Associated Press, Reuters, CNN, The Wall Street Journal, CBS News Radio, Bloomberg, NPR, The Washington Post, The New York Times, USA Today, Politico, AP Radio, PBS Radio, McClatchy, the foreign pool, AFP, Los Angeles Times, and ABC News Radio.

Out of the 49 seats in the briefing room, only nine are occupied by right-leaning news organizations, with only six of those located in the back rows, once Fox News, The Wall Street Journal, and Fox Radio are excluded.

The WHCA not only decides which outlets get seats in the briefing room, but also defends certain members in its public statements and defends them selectively. For instance, the WHCA filed an amicus brief when the Trump administration revoked Jim Acosta’s (of CNN) hard pass, released a statement in support of CNN’s Kaitlan Collins when she was barred from an event, and filed another amicus brief to challenge the revocation of Brian Karem’s hard pass.

However, the WHCA voted to remove One America News Network (OANN) from the briefing room rotation for not adhering to its social distancing guidelines, despite OANN’s correspondent being personally invited by the Trump administration to attend.

During the Trump administration, WHCA reporters would quickly come to each other’s defense on social media if Trump responded sarcastically to one of their questions, but if a conservative outlet was given a question, the rest of the press corps would complain.

The WHCA seemed to hold the belief that conservatives shouldn’t be allowed to ask questions in the briefing room, much like some woke college students who believe conservatives shouldn’t be allowed to speak on campus.

In one instance, Acosta accused Saagar Enjeti, a colleague at the time, of asking “softball” questions during a joint press conference between Trump and Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro. Enjeti asked Bolsonaro about the impact of a socialist Democratic candidate replacing the president on U.S.-Brazil relations, given that socialism has been blamed for Brazil’s economic problems.

Acosta disagreed with Enjeti’s question and even incorrectly claimed that it was directed at Trump, not Bolsonaro. Acosta described the question as a “softball” that was “served up” to Trump in the Rose Garden.

Acosta had previously expressed his concern that Trump might call on conservative outlets who would ask “softball” questions. He was criticized for his consternation over conservative colleagues, particularly when Fox News came to his defense after Trump tried to revoke his hard pass.

The WHCA has been accused of favoritism towards its preferred outlets and personal friends. For instance, CNN contributor April Ryan was given a permanent seat in the briefing room when she covered the White House for the American Urban Radio Networks.

When she moved to TheGrio, a website owned by Allen Media Group, the WHCA quickly reassigned her seat from the American Urban Radio Networks to TheGrio, which is worth noting was launched and owned by NBC until 2016.

When it comes to White House events, television correspondents and wire services such as Reuters and the Associated Press are given priority.

Reporters have to line up in a predetermined order, and those from larger outlets often send their producers or junior reporters to hold their spots in line, an advantage that solo reporters do not have. The system is also similar for events in the Rose Garden, where certain establishment outlets are assigned seats in the back two rows, while television correspondents get prime standing space.

The WHCA’s rules are self-reinforcing, which means that the system is never challenged. Smaller outlets don’t have a set working space or an assigned seat in the briefing room, and they can’t count on getting decent positioning at other events, making it difficult for them to have a physical presence at the White House.

However, to get more access, the WHCA requires reporters to have a physical presence at the White House as often as possible, creating an unbalanced relationship where reporters have to accept being treated poorly with the vague hope of eventually being accepted into the WHCA’s club.