Obama holds surprise secret meeting with press as some reporters say they would not have attended if they knew President would be there
- Journalists were already in private meeting when President arrived
- Meetings allow press to hear from Obama, but not report what he says
By DAILY MAIL
PUBLISHED: 01:14 EST, 12 June 2013 | UPDATED: 01:15 EST, 12 June 2013
President Obama held a surprise secret meeting with several reporters at the White House on Monday, as he seeks to placate the press over a series of recent scandals.
While off-the-record meetings are not new at the White House, it wasn’t until the selected reporters were already in the meeting that the President arrived.
The briefing had originally been listed as a briefing by White House Chief of Staff, Denis McDonough.
The Obama Administration has been criticized in the past week after details of the NSA’s surveillance were leaked.
The revelations come after reports of the Department Justice collecting Associated Press phone records, and the IRS allegedly targeting right-wing groups.
About 24 reporters attended the meeting, where they were given direct access to the President as he discussed his thoughts on recent events – although they were not able to report what was said.
When the Justice Department had attempted to hold a similar briefing in the wake of the revelation that it had collected phone records from Associated Press reporters, several news publications protested, and the New York Times refused publicly to attend.
With Monday’s unexpected meeting, New York Times reporter Peter Baker said if he had known President Obama would be attending, he and his editors would have reconsidered whether to go to the briefing.
‘Our concern about off-the-record sessions with the President is that they not become substitutes for opportunities to ask questions and get answers on the record which, after all, is our job,’ Mr Baker told Buzzfeed.
Secret briefings have been a common feature at the White House, since John F Kennedy used to entertain his favored reporters in his office.
After the off-the-record meeting, reporters who attended told Buzzfeed it had been a valuable experience in understanding the President’s thoughts, even if they were unable to share their insight with readers.
The most recent leak to affect the White House was the revelations about phone record and internet surveillance.
On Friday, the President had sought to address fears over the national security programs.
One involves the collection of U.S. Verizon customers phone records. The other, dubbed PRISM, allows the government to see the internet searches of foreign nationals overseas who use any of nine U.S.-based internet providers such as Microsoft and Google.
‘My assessment and my team’s assessment was that [the programs] help us prevent terrorist attacks and that the modest encroachments on privacy that are involved in getting phone numbers or duration [of calls] without a name attached… It was worth us doing,’ he said.
In his statement at the White House he said Congress had approved the two programs.
‘I think it’s important to understand that you can’t have 100 per cent security and then have 100 per cent privacy and zero inconvenience,’ the President said.
At a briefing on Tuesday, intelligence officials sought to convince House lawmakers that the collection of phone records and internet usage was necessary and did not trample on privacy rights.
However, the American Civil Liberties Union asked a New York court on Tuesday to demand that the Obama administration end the program and purge the records it has collected.
Polls by the Washington Post and Pew Research Center showed a majority of Americans support some aspects of the spy programs, putting the need to investigate terrorist threats over the need to protect personal privacy, according to Associated Press.