Friday, April 30, 2010

No Love Between Press And President

A survey of correspondents covering the White House concludes they have a "surprisingly hostile relationship -- as contentious on a day-to-day basis as any between press and president in the past decade."
Gee, after listening to Fox's Bill O'Reilly for years I thought the liberal left wing mainstream press was in the hands body and soul of the Democrats and particularly President Barack Obama.

Politico's Josh Gerstein and Patrick Gavin agree to that perception and illustrate it with this scene from last year's White House Correspondents Association dinner when Obama took the podium:
“Most of you covered me,"  the president said. "All of you voted for me," he joked.

 The two themes of malcontent are lack of access to the president and his White House henchmen playing favorites, primarily the New York Times.

Gee, I recall that the major complaint against Obama in the early days of his administration was that he was overexposed. His face was everywhere. He exploited every form of media known to mankind.

Despite the Obama administration's claim to transparency the two reporters discovered that Obama has conducted only one full-blown press conference in the last 10 months. The White House counters that by saying Obama has had 150 sit-down interviews with selected reporters during his time in the Oval Office.

Here's a laundry list Politico compiled:

— Day-to-day interaction with Obama is almost nonexistent, and he talks to the press corps far less often than Bill Clinton or even George W. Bush did. Clinton took questions nearly every weekday, on average. Obama barely does it once a week.

— The ferocity of pushback is intense. A routine press query can draw a string of vitriolic e-mails. A negative story can draw a profane high-decibel phone call or worse. Some reporters feel like they’ve been frozen out after crossing the White House.

— Except toward a few reporters, press secretary Robert Gibbs can be distant and difficult to reach — even though his job is to be one of the main conduits from president to press. “It’s an odd White House where it’s easier to get the White House chief of staff on the phone than the White House press secretary,” one top reporter said.

— And at the very moment many reporters feel shut out, one paper — The New York Times — enjoys a favoritism from Obama and his staff that makes competitors fume, with gift-wrapped scoops and loads of presidential face time.

One theme I found striking throughout the Politico account was this contradiction:

While reporters of all stripes hate it when their sources demand anonymity, nearly all of the high-profile White House correspondents would talk to the two reporters only on condition their names not be used.

One of the exceptions was veteran ABC reporter Ann Compton.who believes the White House is still in presidential campaign mode where they flawlessly controlled the agenda but have failed and react retaliatory since taking power.

“They ain’t seen nothing yet,” the longtime ABC reporter said. “Wait till they have to start really circling the wagons when someone in the administration is under attack, wait till there’s a scandal, wait till someone screws up, then it’ll get hostile.”



If you have the time, this Politico article is worth reading. My sense is that the constitutional relationship between press and president is the same as mixing oil with water. The reporter's job is adversarial, at least in theory. No one said it is easy. The grousing you hear from today's White House correspondents is no different than what we heard since the Truman administration. That's the way is should be. That and fear of being snubbed by sources within the White House is why so many reporters' names were anonymous. They didn't want to be portrayed as whiners.

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