The press corp grows restless

Green Greenwald at Salon and Josh Gerstein with Patrick Gavin at Politico outline the increasingly contentious relationship between the Obama administration and the White House press corp:

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.

And just what happens when you upset the White House?

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.

“It’s a natural outgrowth of campaigning, where control of the message is everything and where a very tight circle controls the flow of information,” The New Yorker’s Packer said. “I just think it is a mistake to transfer that model to governing. Governing is so much more complicated and is all about implementation — not just message.”

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!”

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.

[QUOTE]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.
Just think about that for a minute. National political reporters are furious over various White House practices involving transparency and information control, but are unwilling to say so for attribution due to fear of "retaliation," instead insisting on hiding behind a wall of anonymity (which Politico, needless to say, happily provides). Isn’t that a rather serious problem: that the White House press corps is afraid to criticize the President and the White House for fear of losing access and suffering other forms of retribution? What does that say about their “journalism”? It’s the flip side of those White House reporters who need the good graces of Obama aides for their behind-the-scenes books and thus desperately do their bidding: what kind of reporter covering the White House would possibly admit that they’re afraid to say anything with their names attached that might anger the President and his aides? How could you possibly be a minimally credible White House reporter if you have that fear? Doesn’t that unwillingness rather obviously render their reporting worthless?

The above, along with the recent Obama admin attacks on journalist whistle-blowers, is just another example of how disappointing the administration has been in many key areas.

I would call this a “key area”, not “key areas”. But the same clampdown on media access seems to be happening in every country. It certainly is going on with a vengeance in Australia.

Yeah, our President has really let me down on civil liberties. I like the healthcare, it’s going to save lives. I don’t like the continuation of sadistic practices by our Federal Government in terms of detained individuals. I don’t like the lack of transparency when it comes to threatening whistleblowers and reporters, and refusing to release information properly demanded under the Freedom of Information Act. I don’t like his continued violations of civil rights through the quasi-legitimate yet Unconstitutional Patriot Act and through other, inarguably illegal programs.

At this point, I do not like the President. I helped him get elected. I stood at the polls and prevented McCain’s lawyers from challenging the votes of African Americans in a poor part of Milwaukee. I still think he’s better than McCain and Palin, but he is not restoring the country to the disciplined and reasoned path that even Nixon had us on. Nixon turned over tapes of himself covering up crimes. He fought it in the courts, but when the Supreme Court said turn it over, he turned them over. Obama won’t turn over the additional Abu Ghraib pictures, he chases after whistleblowers just as bad as W, and it is not excusable. He is engaging in the same type of gamesmanship with the courts as George W. Bush. Nixon met with China, Obama won’t meet with Iran. It is just politically expedient choice after politically expedient choice.

Does he not understand that the buck stops with him? That people who elected him should at least be entitled to expect him to follow the law? When it comes to the press, does he not understand that those are Americans asking questions of their government? That reporters are the poeple who the rest of us pay to drive to the White House and ask the President questions, and that if he’s not answering their questions, he is not answering our questions? Granted, reporters under Bush did a terrible job for the most part, and a lot of bad policies passed without comment. But it seems like he thinks he is entitled to that same type of shoddy reporting. That shoddy reporting was a mistake that hurt our democracy, and it’s his responsibility to do on his end whatever he can to fix it. He’s only the President for eight years at the most, and our nation has to survive beyond that, and for that, we need a healthy dialog with our President, whoever that President may be.

He’s already seen that one President who breaks the law can make it easier for the next President to break the law. Why can’t he be a President that doesn’t? Are there no votes to be found in admitting that ours is a system of checks and balances? Does he not understand that there is a difference between a strong leader and a powerful one?

But again, the healthcare thing was nice.

It’s important to recognize that the White House Press Corp is less of a journalistic body and more of a high school social clique. Once you accept that, stories like this take on a whole new light.

It’s especially amusing to see Glenn Greenwald cover this; in the past he’s spent tens of thousands of words bitching about the symbiotic, cozy relationship between the press corp and the White House.

edit: nm; I read Greenwald more closely and it looks like his tone is at least partially tongue in cheek. Wah poor reporters!

Can anyone name anything of journalistic value the WH press corp has ever produced?

Yeah the media is totally faultless here.

What scares me is that government and its posture toward the populace seems to grow more and more into permanent campaign mode, appealing to the least common denominator.

This is even true of senators in Maine. Susan Collins once pledged she wouldn’t serve more than two terms.

Now she’s in her third term, of course. And I’m pretty sure there’s a whole load of politicians that did this same thing. Don’t PLEDGE something and rescind on that pledge. Obama told us we’d have transparency, and we don’t. Bush said <insert a bunch of things> and they didn’t happen. Everyone said <insert everything> and it didn’t happen. My disdain for politicians grows with each broken pledge.

I know, I’m saying that if I was Obama, for the good of my country, I’d train them not to be such foaming sycophants.

I know you are being sarcastic, but of course the press corp is partly to blame and in many ways they aren’t really doing their job. Like the article said though, shit rolls down hill (my paraphrase), and Obama has made clear the contempt he has for the media (much more so than past presidents) when they don’t fall in line behind his views.

p.s. The fact is that Obama, Gibbs, and their aides act like dicks to the press, and the corp is too scared of being shut out of news to call the President on stuff. The relationship is bad for everyone.

Yea, so did Orrin Hatch. Orrin fucking Hatch - the douchebag that has been in office since 1977.

God I hate my state.

They appeal to the lowest common denominator because it works.

You get the government you deserve.

The above, along with the recent Obama admin attacks on journalist whistle-blowers

What on earth do the two have to do with each other? What’s inherently bad about Obama not giving the media lots of access?

For an administration that made a lot of noise about transparency, it’s a troubling sign.

Is this the same Press Corps that bent over backwards to lick Bush’s balls? Always being nice for fear they’d be “kicked out of the club”?

They want their nicknames back.

We had this discussion in the HCR thread, when CSPAN wanted to televise negotiations. Transparency is not always a good thing. The Obama campaign threw it out there because it’s popular, not necessarily because it’s valuable.

I’m going to have to settle for disliking everyone involved. I mean, just because I don’t like Mike Tyson doesn’t mean I wouldn’t enjoy watching him beat Karl Rove senseless. The press is perhaps a step below Karl Rove but it’s a small step. More of a bump.

You Americans should have media scrums.

Here in Canuckistan, when the Prime Minister (or provincial Premier) or Cabinet Ministers leave the House of Commons chamber on Parliament Hill, they are often mobbed by journalists on their way to their offices. The PM and Cabinet Ministers will stop to answer questions for a few minutes, and sometimes get mocked by a comedienne dressed up like Xena.

Being mean or nice to the media isn’t transparency; it’s a PR tactic. I thought transparency wa stuff like “how long are bills available before the vote” and “regulatory meetings are open to the public.”

Should Obama be better? Yes. Should the press stop fucking whining and actually do something like go and report on something without having it spoon-fed to them? Also yes. I have more contempt for the press on this, because it’s the nature of governments to want to conceal things, so it’s disappointing but predictable that the white house wants to control the message. But it is the job of a journalist to go report and dig up stories despite people wanting to conceal them, so they are whining about actually having to do their job. Fuckers. Maybe if they grow some balls now they won’t immediately recede once a republican admin comes back in.

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.

That is because Gibb comes across more like a chief of staff than a press secretary.
Now I maybe repressing painful memories from the past, but Gibbs, is the absolute worse presidential press secretary I’ve ever seen. He is way worse than anybody Clinton or Bush 43 had. He manages to pull of the difficult task of simultaneously coming across as inarticulate bumbling fool, a vindictive prick, and one of those maddening lawyers who won’t give a straight answer.

I didn’t vote for President Obama and I disagree with many of his policies, but he is still my president and it is painful to watch my country being represented so poorly.