A journey with the Washington Press Corps.

Author:Cohen, Elisia L.
Position:Reporting from Washington: The history of the Washington Press Corps - Book review

Ritchie, D. A. (2005). Reporting from Washington: The history of the Washington Press Corps. New York: Oxford University Press. 432 pages.

Donald A. Ritchie's analytical rigor and attention to historical detail have produced a book unrivaled in its circumference of archival research uncovering the workings of the Washington Press Corps from the New Deal era to the present. Ritchie explains to the casual reader how:

Since 1880, the U.S. government has ceded the authority to determine who qualifies for a press pass to cover the Capitol, the White House, and the federal agencies to members of the press corps themselves. Reporters elect committees of correspondents, who grant formal accreditation, thereby defining, and restricting, their own trade. (p. XIII) Thereafter, the book interrogates the professional norms of inclusion and exclusion for Washington Press Corps membership over time, describes how technological changes influenced its journalistic culture, and illustrates the unique ways in which Washington correspondents unraveled and fumbled historic political stories, ranging from Nixon's Watergate to Clinton's "Monicagate," and has performed with valor and significance during recent times. In so doing, it reflexively demonstrates how "hard-fought battles" within the journalism profession "eventually opened the press galleries to greater diversity, by race, gender, and technology, and repeatedly redefined Washington reporting" (p. XIII). Although the text proceeds thematically, it also unravels a temporal struggle over meanings that define the relationship between the U.S. presidency and the Washington Press Corps.

The book's first chapters detail how early in the late 19th and early 20th century New York City was the coveted post for political information. These chapters, as well as a later chapter on the foreign press, explain why the size and the status of Washington's Press Corps grew by the time of the New Deal and World War II. The first chapter on the New Deal explains the role of the prestige press in covering Washington, and specifically how the New York Times took the lead in covering the White House. In describing the leaders of major news bureaus, their personal relationships with Roosevelt, and their relationship with their Washington correspondents, Ritchie presents the early struggle within the profession between interpretive and objective reporting styles and its influence on political journalism.

The book discusses...

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