A few weeks ago, I discussed and linked up to an intriguing piece that talked about the cushy, inappropriate ‘professional’ relationships certain mainstream media journalists had/have with the WH – specifically, those MSMers who are in line to write books (not very hard hitting ones, I presume) on the life and times of the Obama administration at a future date, suck-up writers who admittedly hold on to certain information to use it in their respective books rather than report it in real time.
However, on the flip end of that equation are an increasing number MSM journalists who are growing more and more frustrated at the lack of any significant degree of access to key figures in the administration, including of course Obama himself, but also Robert Gibbs and other senior officials who speak on behalf of the admin, as detailed today by Politico’s Josh Gerstein and Patrick Gavin write:
Obama and the media actually have a surprisingly hostile relationship — as contentious on a day-to-day basis as any between press and president in the past decade, reporters who cover the White House say.
Reporters say the White House is thin-skinned, controlling, eager to go over their heads and stingy with even basic information. All White Houses try to control the message. But this White House has pledged to be more open than its predecessors, and reporters feel it doesn’t live up to that pledge in several key areas:
— 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.
“They seem to want to close the book on the highly secretive years of the Bush administration. However, in their relationship with the press, I think they’re doing what they think succeeded in helping Obama get elected,” said The New Yorker’s George Packer.
“I don’t think they need to be nice to reporters, but the White House seems to imagine that releasing information is like a tap that can be turned on and off at their whim,” Packer said.
Much of the criticism is off the record, both out of fear of retaliation and from worry about appearing whiny. But those views were voiced by a cross section of the television, newspaper and magazine journalists who cover the White House.
“These are people who came in with every reporter giving them the benefit of the doubt,” said another reporter who regularly covers the White House. “They’ve lost all that goodwill.”
And this attitude, many believe, starts with the man at the top. Obama rarely lets a chance go by to make a critical or sarcastic comment about the press, its superficiality or its short-term mentality. He also hasn’t done a full-blown news conference for 10 months.
It’s a lengthy article, but well worth the read if you are keen on reading “inside baseball” accounts about just how far that O admin has sunk when it comes to the hollow “transparency” and “openness” promises made during the campaign specifically relating to press access.
I also find interesting the quote about Obama being given “the benefit of the doubt” by members of the mainstream press at the start of his admin, something we all know is never given to a GOP President. This crowd gave him the “benefit of the doubt” way before the start of his administration by greatly aiding in getting him elected in the first place via puff piece after puff piece. Yet they’re complaining now because the admin is reluctant to engage with them because they fear they might write something remotely critical? Hmm.
Well, there are a couple of solutions to this. One, all the reporters complaining about access can try to get a contract to write a book on the admin. Or they can officially become admin-friendly columnists a la David Brooks and pundits so they can get invites to “off-the-record” lunches with various officials – including Obama himself. But I suspect neither idea is very appealing to the average journalists who just want to get the big scoop of the day and who want to get a few straight answers from this President and White House on issues of concern to the American people.
The only other suggestion I have would be to do what they typically do to Republican Presidents, and that’s dig until you can find a number of sources who are willing to reveal “on background” the stuff that FibbsCo want to keep under wraps and/or controlled. Some already have and I suspect more probably will in the coming months as getting face time with the key players will get tougher and tougher, but it won’t last long. As soon as the 2012 campaign kicks into high gear, they’ll fall back in line for that much-desired access in order to be able to write about Obama’s second “historic” run for re-election. Not just because they believe in his message, but also because the prospect of more $$ rolling in on the photo and article collections alone will just be too tempting to resist.