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February 25, 2013

Covering Obama: Is this trip worth it?

(Continued)

WASHINGTON —

Why so expensive? Among other reasons, the press charters carry relatively light loads (often 30 or 40 people compared with 150 for a commercial flight), according to a charter-company executive. The private jets also operate on irregular schedules and fly "dead legs" — that is, empty — en route to picking up passengers. In addition, press charters have more elaborate food and beverage offerings than commercial flights and greater security constraints than regularly scheduled planes, said the executive, who asked not to be named because his company is a contender for White House contracts.

Since the cost of the charter flight is split among all of the people on it, news organizations wind up paying more when others decide not to go. In other words, when others deem a trip too expensive, it gets more expensive for everyone else.

— — —

Although the White House Correspondents' Association didn't mention the cost of covering the president in its complaint last week after the Florida golf outing, Ed Henry, the group's president, said the issue has come up in the past. "It costs some of our [news] organizations millions of dollars a year to cover the president," said Henry, speaking as head of the WHCA, not in his role as Fox News's White House correspondent. "Would we like to find ways to make it more economical and efficient? Yes, we would."

During long trips abroad, for example, the correspondents association has asked the White House for more background briefings from Obama's top advisers and traveling staff members. "We think it's appropriate, given the huge sacrifice of traveling all around the world . . . to get a little something extra on the road," he said.

By the end of last week, Henry said the WHCA's complaint about access may have gotten some attention at the White House. In an unusual move, Obama took a question from the media during an Oval Office visit on Friday by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe — a small sign of progress, according to Henry.

"The president decided to take a step, not a big step but a step, toward us," he said. "That's awesome."

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