I missed this intriguing story over the weekend but didn’t want to let another day go by without linking to it and writing about it. The Washington Note is hardly a bastion of conservative thought – not even close, and nor is Steve Clemons, who writes for WN. On Saturday they published a column online that gave a revealing look at just how deep the “special scratch my back/I’ll scratch yours” relationship really is between the Obama WH and MSM journalists and columnists. It’s a disturbing report, but one that shouldn’t surprise any of us, considering that – once you read it – you’ll recognize that these sort of things were going on prior to then-candidate Obama being elected President. And obviously, the beat goes on (bolded emphasis added by me):
The communications team at the White House has an extremely difficult job — and I admire how hard Ben Rhodes, Bill Burton, Tommy Vietor, and of course Robert Gibbs and others work to connect the President’s policy direction with a communications effort that furthers the Obama agenda.
The role of the White House press corps is to engage this team and work on public’s behalf to report not only on what they are fed by the communications team but what they are not.
There are good friendships between White House media and those they cover inside the White House — but they can’t be FRIENDS in the fullest sense. They are supposed to be rivals, wrestling over stories and the truth that is conveyed through the media to American citizens.
But an unhealthy pattern is developing in this White House — a trend that may very well have been a part of other presidencies as well — but what is happening today needs comment.
Some journalists seem to be putting their self interest above their responsibilities to the public as well as their employers.
As Howard Kurtz and Glenn Greenwald have both commented, many White House correspondents and other top tier journalists want to write Obama books.
Anything with “Obama” on it is running at a huge premium in the book publication market.
But the kind of books that sell need “inside access” and this is something that the communications team at the White House doles out minimally, and increasingly, only when favors are part of the arrangement.
What I have learned after discussions over the last several days with several journalists who either have regular access to the White House or are part of the White House press corps is that there is a growing sense that access is traded for positive stories — or perhaps worse, an agreement that things learned will not be reported in the near term.
The White House is working hard to secure deals that yield fluffy, feel good commentary about the Obama White House. One American White House reporter used colorful terms to describe the arrangement. The reporter said, “They want ‘blow jobs’ first [in the press sense]. Then you have to be on good behavior for a bit or be willing to deal, and then you get access.”
“Axe” and “Gibbs” know who needs access to get their books pushed forward.
They know who will pay for play — and are taking notes on who has been naughty and nice in their reporting.
Of course, not all journalists and columnists engage in this practice; ABC News’ Jake Tapper and Fox News’ Major Garrett, for example, are veteran journalists who have earned respect from both sides of the aisle for their truly fair and balanced questioning and reporting. But they’re a rarity in the news business these days. More often than not, most journalists tend to wear their political leanings on their sleeves, and most of them – natch – are liberals. Same same with columnists, although I don’t come down too hard on columnists for displaying a bias because, well, that’s what they’re supposed to do.
But MSM journalists are another matter. And what Clemons described above is exactly what we saw during the course of then-candidate Obama’s “historic” presidential run, and the favoritism shown to Obama wasn’t just due to the fact that so many journalists openly adored him, but also because their news organizations wanted the interviews and photos to use in the event he was elected to sell books and “collectors’ edition” glossies, etc. As I wrote last August in a post on how NBC’s love for Obama was literally paying off:
This really is nothing new, unfortunately. As we read in the days leading up to the election and long after, the MSM – including the WaPo, McCatchy, NYT and other liberal news outlets were eager to sell Obama merchandise, including books which featured professional pictures and articles from the campaign trail, individual photos for sale on their websites, and a solicitation for people to buy congratulatory inaugural ads only – ads that would be featured in print and on the website of the Washington Post.
Not only were mainstream media journalists in the tank for Obama because they agreed with his platform and because they thought he was “hip” and “sexy” and, most importantly, messiah-like, but they also dug him because of the “historic nature” of his candidacy, which was a guaranteed ca$h cow.
Not watchdogs but lapdogs. Not investigative journalists but passive cultists. Just another day in the life of our so-called “non-partisan” MSM.
And, clearly, it’s a trend that continues.
Most of us expect for a WH to have a “preferred” network or news outlet because all administrations want to “control the message” to a great extent; President Bush was partial to Fox and many of his administration officials made it a point to appear on that network more so than any of the others, and this WH is obviously going to have a network or news outlet or two (they really have their pick of the litter, though, don’t they?) that they will grant on-the-record interviews to. But the thing is, those interviews are part of the public record because they are usually televised and/or printed. Any WH is also going to give “scoops” to a preferred news organization as well. That’s just the nature of the beast. Always has been and always will be. But trading off insider access for a glowing report on down the line – or for a suppression of what’s found out as a result of that access until a book comes out at a later date … or maybe not at all, is quite dangerous and is something we saw from Team Clinton both during Bubba’s reign and Hillary’s presidential run.
And all this is coming from an administration that promised a return of “transparency” to Washington, DC, and an end to “business as usual.” What they didn’t tell anyone (but did they really have to for anyone to know?) is that the type of “transparency” they had in mind was not the same type of transparency most people expect from their elected leaders. What they also didn’t clue anyone in on was that their “end to business as usual” promise actually meant that a new sheriff was coming to town and that he would redefine “business as usual” into something more ugly and sleazy than we’ve seen in modern history.
Let’s not forget that part and parcel to this cushy little arrangement the WH has with members of the media elite is their “or else” demand/threat that liberal pundits not appear on Fox News, as well as their trendy little “off-the-record” get togethers they occasionally have with columnists, journalists, and commentators like:
Politico reports that CNN’s David Gergen, WaPo’s Chris Cillizza, Newsweek’s Jon Meacham and Howard Fineman, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s Cynthia Tucker, Politico’s Mike Allen, NPR/Fox’s Mara Liasson, TPM’s Josh Marshall and NYT’s David Brooks, Andy Rosenthal, and Gail Collins joined the President, David Axelrod, Anita Dunn, Bill Burton and Robert Gibbs for an off-the-record lunch today.
When’s the last time you saw a hard-hitting piece on the Obama administration from anyone in that crowd? I didn’t think so. Hate to say it, but notorious liberal windbag Glenn Greenwald gets it exactly right here:
Is it even remotely conceivable that this stable of access-desperate reporters would write negatively about the White House or the President, or conversely, refuse to do their bidding? Look at what Ryan Lizza writes to get the answer. They’re all vying for the lucrative position of unofficial royal court spokesman (which Bob Woodward occupied in the prior administration). How can one possibly purport to be a “watchdog” over the very political officials on whom one’s livelihood and hope for riches depend? This conflict between (a) a need for access and (b) adversarial journalism is already acute enough — perhaps even unavoidable — for those who report on a day-to-day basis on the White House and other officials. But to then purposely compound that conflict by putting yourself in such a dependent and needy position vis-a-vis White House aides (with these “behind-the-scenes” books) proves how inappropriate the word “journalist” is for them. They’re motivated by many things; journalism plainly isn’t one of them.
Follow the $$.