The realtionship between Obama and the media grows a little more hostile each day.
From the Politico
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 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.
Obama’s White House aides can rightfully say they’ve set new standards for opening up access on several fronts, such as releasing previously secret visitors’ logs, expanding White House Web content and offering more than 150 sit-down interviews with Obama to selected reporters.
But Gibbs is unapologetic about sometimes taking a hard line in his dealings with the press, saying it’s a response to the viral nature of modern media.
“There’s a danger in letting something go. Trust me, I read a lot of news every day. Not a day goes by that something that I didn’t pay enough attention to, or close attention to, doesn’t go from being myth to reality over the course of several hours,” Gibbs told POLITICO.
“I understand if you’re a reporter and get 95 percent right, and your word choice isn’t right on 5 percent. But that 5 percent goes on to become reality. I’ve got to live with that, when it may or may not be true,” Gibbs said. “It does make our jobs difficult.”
The correspondents association recently met with 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.
The press’s bill of particulars boils down to this: