National Press Club

Leinwand Decries Plouffe's Off-the-Record Briefing

February 13, 2009 | By Donna Leinwand

The National Press Club and several media groups objected on Thursday to Obama campaign manager David Plouffe's last-minute decision to bar media coverage of his noon speech in the Club's ballroom.

Plouffe, who has been on the speaking circuit promoting his forthcoming book, "The Audacity to Win", was the keynote speaker on Thursday at a public policy luncheon sponsored by Georgetown University and Politico. Every event at the two-day program had been promoted as open to media coverage, but Georgetown on Wednesday told media representatives that Plouffe's speech would be off the record.

National Press Club President Donna Leinwand protested Plouffe's media blackout with a strongly worded letter to Plouffe and his representatives. Politico editor John Harris stepped down as moderator of the speech. Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank, who stood outside the NPC ballroom wearing a hand-lettered sandwich board that said "what the Plouffe?", handed out reporter's notebooks to conference attendees so they could report on the speech for The Washington Post.

Read the National Press Club's letter below:

Hilary Kline
Washington Speakers Bureau

Dear Ms. Kline

It has come to my attention that one of your clients, Mr. David Plouffe, would like to speak off the record at the Feb. 12-13 Transition 2009 conference at the National Press Club, an event that I understand is otherwise on the record.

As you know, the National Press Club is hosting but not sponsoring this event. Georgetown University's School of Continuing Studies is renting a room at the Club for the conference. As such, it is the prerogative of Georgetown, Mr. Plouffe and your bureau to impose whatever ground rules you prefer for his remarks.

Nonetheless, as president of the National Press Club, I wish to register my strong opposition to the prospect of a newsworthy event at the Club being off the record.

Blacking out news coverage of this speech would not only reduce the free flow of information that is at the core of the National Press Club's mission. It also would run contrary to the spirit of President Obama's recent executive order and statements in support of a more open government. While Mr. Plouffe does not work for the Obama administration, his identity is tied to the president's, and if his decision to speak off the record stands, it will undermine the president's message on this important issue.

Word of Mr. Plouffe's intentions is particularly alarming because it comes on the heels of reports that he barred reporters from covering his recent address in Azerbaijan. Establishing a pattern of this sort would not reflect well on him or your organization.

I sent a similar letter to Mr. Plouffe just now. I would appreciate it if you would do what you can to alter this decision. Please do not hesitate to call me to discuss this. I can be reached at " " or 202-662-7517.

Thanks for your consideration.


Donna Leinwand
National Press Club