One of the enduring story lines of Barack Obama’s presidency, dating back to the earliest days of his candidacy, is that the press loves him.
“Most of you covered me. All of you voted for me,” Obama joked last year at the White House Correspondents’ Association Dinner.
But even then, only four months into his presidency, the joke fell flat. Now, a year later, with another correspondents’ dinner Saturday night likely to generate the familiar criticism of the press’s cozy relationship with power, the reality is even more at odds with the public perception.
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……
— 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.
……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.
……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.
……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.
……The correspondents association recently met with (Robert) Gibbs to discuss, in the words of Bloomberg’s Ed Chen, “a level of anger, which is wide and deep, among members over White House practices and attitude toward the press.”
A few days later, Gibbs said at one of his briefings, “This is the most transparent administration in the history of our country.”
Peals of laughter broke out in the briefing room.
……It’s one thing to feed a scoop to the (New York) Times. Every White House does it.
But Team Obama did it right in front of the other reporters’ faces — then, in their view, lied about it.
It was last September in Pittsburgh, when about 20 journalists were attending an off-the-record dinner with Obama chief of staff Rahm Emanuel during the G-20 summit. Also in attendance: New York Times Chief Washington Correspondent David Sanger, a White House favorite.
As one White House reporter tells it, “Jim Jones and Denis McDonough and Gary Samore were lurking in this very dark, nice dining room that we were in. And we were all kind of wondering why they were there. Then, at one point at the dinner, McDonough tapped on Sanger’s shoulder and whispered something in his ear. Sanger got up and walked towards this clutch of NSC people, including Jones, and they walked off.”
“We were all flummoxed and floored by this whole thing,” said the reporter. “A few reporters cornered McDonough and said, ‘You can’t do that. You can’t do that in front of other reporters.’ He said, ‘Oh, you guys, you’re barking up the wrong tree! We didn’t give anything. You’ve got nothing to worry about.’”
But later that night, Sanger posted a blockbuster scoop: As Obama, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown and French President Nicolas Sarkozy would announce the next morning, the Iranians had a secret nuclear site but kept it hidden for years from the International Atomic Energy Agency. The other reporters — Sanger’s dinner companions earlier — were sent scrambling at around midnight to match the Times’s account.
“I don’t have a great recollection of the timing of all those events. … It was obviously at the end of a long week” of meetings, McDonough told POLITICO. “I probably didn’t have dinner with anyone that night.”
……Among White House reporters, tales abound of an offhand criticism or passing claim low in an unremarkable story setting off an avalanche of hostile e-mail and voice-mail messages.
“It’s not unusual to have shouting matches or the e-mail equivalent of that. It’s very, very aggressive behavior, taking issue with a thing you’ve written, an individual word, all sorts of things,” said one White House reporter.
Obama’s messages during the campaign involved “transparency” and “fundamentally transforming” the United States. He kept his promise on that second one; we’re being transformed into a Banana Republic.
One of the most irritating practices of the Obama White House is when aides ignore inquiries or explicitly refuse to cooperate with an unwelcome story — only to come out with both guns blazing when it takes a skeptical view of their motives or success.
“You will give them ample opportunity on a story. They will then say, ‘We don’t have anything for you on this.’ Then, when you write an analytical graph that could be interpreted as implying a political motive by the White House, or something that makes them look like anything but geniuses, you will get a flurry of off-the-record, angry e-mails after you publish,” one national reporter said. “That does no good. If you want to complain. Engage!”
Gibbs said the White House’s efforts to push back tend to focus on fixing factual mistakes before they take hold in the media.
“The way we live these days, something that’s wrong can whip around and become part of the conventional wisdom in only a matter of moments, and it’s hard to take it, put a top on it and put in back into the box,” Gibbs said….
……“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.”
……While complaining about stories is hardly unique to the Obama administration, White House reporters charge that sometimes, aides even retaliate against reporters who cross them.
One reporter said that after he wrote a story the White House viewed as critical, aides tried to cancel meetings he’d lined up with other administration officials. “I was told very clearly the press office tried to stop those appointments going ahead,” the journalist said.
Gibbs said he couldn’t recall any such instance. “I’m sure people may have thought that, though,” he said.
……Last year, Times reporter Helene Cooper was the target of a fusillade of complaints from Obama staffers and was for a time essentially frozen out by the administration, several colleagues said. Recently, a story by Sanger and Thom Shanker about an Iran policy memo from Defense Secretary Robert Gates received a public drubbing from Gibbs.
Gibbs said he recalled complaints about a story Cooper wrote from Japan that “had a bent nobody else’s story had. The bent was also wrong.”
……Cooper’s editor, Stevenson, wouldn’t comment on her case but acknowledged the White House has made life difficult for his team from time to time. “There are times when the relationship between a reporter and the rather-closed community in any West Wing and even in an administration more broadly becomes particularly fraught or tense. That has happened with us in a number of instances both public and private,” he said. “All of our reporters come to work the next day, do their jobs, make phone calls, do their best. In none of these cases has any complaint from the White House or any criticism, publicly or privately, changed the way we staff anything, approach any stories, or in the least bit affected our coverage.”
Well, it sure as hell worked with MSNBC. The White House placed a call to The Morning Joe
during a live broadcast to ‘correct’ them on their comments about Gibbs’ heated exchange with Jake Tapper, and Obama’s snub of Fox News. http://sfcmac.wordpress.com/2009/10/22/obama-to-msnbc-make-a-correction-now-msnbc-yes-dear-leader/They complied.
……Edward Luce of The Financial Times drew the ire of Obama aides for a couple of articles arguing that decision making in the Obama administration is extremely centralized. Neither piece was a devastating indictment of the White House, but they prompted a furious reaction.
“I was just in awe of the pummeling Ed took from top White House people,” said policy blogger and New America Foundation senior fellow Steve Clemons. He began talking to White House reporters and came away convinced that what he calls an “extremely unhealthy” relationship has developed in which the White House generally cooperates only with reporters who are willing to write source greasers or other fawning articles.
Gibbs referred questions about the Luce stories to McDonough. “Who’s Ed Luce?” McDonough said. “I’m not familiar with that.”
Clemons’s post on his findings, “Communications Corruption at the White House,” was harsh, particularly coming from a policy wonk who tends to agree with most of Obama’s stances.
“Has the bar moved so far that a reasonable piece that gives and takes a little but provides both criticism and applause is something White House has to respond to in such a prickly, thin-skinned way?” asked Clemons.
Read more: http://www.politico.com/news/stories/0410/36454
The wailing a gnashing of teeth from the MSM is flat out hilarious. Obama played them like a cheap fiddle throughout the campaign, with their fawning compliance. Only the most diligent knob-gobblers, like the New York Times, gets a frequent audience with THE ANNOINTED ONE.
And this statement is a fuckin’ side-splitter:
“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.”
Wait until there’s a scandal????
Lets see: Kevin (“fister”) Jennings, Van Jones, ACORN, Valerie Jarrett, Sonja Sotomayor, Bill Ayers, Tony Rezko, Rod Blagojevich, the SEIU (Andy Stern), and not to mention the way he and his Dem myrmidons in Congress have used the Constitution for toilet paper. That’s not enough to qualify for scandals?
The MSM sure is getting soft.