The White House press corps is up in arms over a lack of transparency from the Administration of Barack Obama more than four years after the President took office.
But the journalists who surround the President aren’t angry because they haven’t been able to gain access to more information about the Administration’s justification for extrajudicial killing of American citizens, possible indefinite detention of Americans or what really went down in Benghazi, Libya, in September. The White House’s newshounds are howling about being shut out from a golf outing the President had with pro golfer and infamous adulterer Tiger Woods.
On Sunday, Ed Henry, FOX News correspondent and the president of the White House Correspondents Association, released a statement:
Speaking on behalf of the White House Correspondents Association, I can say a broad cross section of our members from print, radio, online and TV have today expressed extreme frustration to me about having absolutely no access to the President of the United States this entire weekend… There is a very simple but important principle we will continue to fight for today and in the days ahead: transparency.
When the President returned to the White House Monday night, the extremely frustrated press pool reporters that had been shut out of the President’s outing were finally able to ask the question that had been eating holes in their minds for hours. As he exited Marine One, The DC reports that the President was met with a unified wail from reporters granted access to the White House: “Did you beat Tiger?”
The President reportedly answered only with a smirk. But his smirk is more telling than any answer he could have delivered to the question on the White House lawn; with his smirk the President removed any doubt that his Administration has mastered the art of passing government-censored media as legitimate news.
Personal Liberty Digest™ has at times expressed disgust in the seeming willingness of mainstream media to side with the Administration on any number of issues. But according to a report from POLITICO, the White House deserves more credit for its manipulative press strategy than it has been given.
In modern Presidential history, staged photo ops, friendly softball interviews on conversational television shows and kiss-the-baby events are nothing new. These moments, at one time, were considered sideline events for the press to observe the more human side of the President between grilling him about policy failures and plans. But the Obama Administration has, by sleight of hand, effectively restrained the White House press corps to the point that the journalists walking the same halls of the President are crying over missing him on the links while policy questions — some of them literally matters of life and death — go unanswered.
By keeping pool reporters at arm’s length while simultaneously satiating the populace’s appetite for Presidential access via friendly Google Hangout events or Ask Me Anything sessions on Reddit, the President has effectively created a system by which his daily activities go unmonitored.
“The way the president’s availability to the press has shrunk in the last two years is a disgrace,” ABC News White House reporter Ann Compton, who has covered every President back to Gerald R. Ford, told POLITICO. “The president’s day-to-day policy development — on immigration, on guns — is almost totally opaque to the reporters trying to do a responsible job of covering it. There are no readouts from big meetings he has with people from the outside, and many of them aren’t even on his schedule. This is different from every president I covered. This White House goes to extreme lengths to keep the press away.”
Anyone who has ever worked as a journalist knows that the game of cat and mouse that often develops between a public official and a reporter is won or lost in the very beginning of the relationship between the two. A person in the public eye who starts out with a negative attitude toward those tasked with covering his every move can count on ambitious reporters — often just for ego’s sake — going to the ends of the Earth to dig up dirt. On the other hand, a reporter who fawns over a public official for his power, wealth or skills of oration has already failed in positioning himself to provide pertinent information to the public.
The latter example would seem to be more representative of the relationship that has developed between the press and Obama from campaign 2008 to the beginning of his second term. The “hopey-changey” first black President of the United States certainly was cause for celebration among large segments of the population during the initial years of the Administration. The press was busy turning out story after story about a fledging Democratic President (Nobel Peace Prize winning, no less) intent on drawing down the wars of a Republican predecessor while tackling the domestic policy juggernaut that Obama claimed kept the poorest Americans poor.
Meanwhile, the President’s internal media relations people were working feverishly to ensure that when the veneer wore off, the press pool found itself in no position to cover serious issues. This was achieved by creating America’s first social media President. His team made Obama America’s “friendly guy in the White House” by bypassing the press pool middlemen and delivering messages straight to the public via a re-redesigned White House website, a bustling Twitter feed, Instagram and Facebook. The press reaction to this “effort by the President to be more transparent to the public” was largely to fawn, before adopting the White House efforts as good-enough sources supplemented by press releases and a daily talk with the President’s press secretary Jay Carney (a former Time reporter).
The veneer, as liberals and conservatives alike will note, has worn off — as it often will when politicians have nothing to lose. Obama, the drone-loving, war-continuing, indefinite-detaining, economically unaccountable President, has replaced the “hopey-changey” first black President for most people. And the press is nowhere in sight. It’s not because the newsmen in the White House don’t want more answers to serious questions, but because they spent too much time with their eyes glazed over in the beginning to reverse course now.
Perhaps the golf game was all they had left.