The once torrid love affair between the media and Barack Obama, which has cooled considerably of late, took another hit with reports of the White House’s interfering with their daily pool reports about the President.
According to The Washington Post’s Paul Farhi, Obama’s press aides have demanded changes in press-pool reports before they are distributed to other journalists, some of whom have complained about the leverage the White House exerts over the process .
While most of the changes are minor, others show how far the White House will go to control the message and protect the image of President Obama.
As the pool reporter on a presidential trip to California in mid-2012, Todd Gillman of the Dallas Morning News included a colorful scene in his pool file: Obama walking back to the press section of Air Force One bearing a dessert with a lighted candle to honor a veteran reporter who was making her final presidential trip. Gillman added the seemingly innocuous detail that Obama asked the honoree to blow out the candle and make a wish, “preferably one that had something to do with the number 270,” the minimum number of electoral college votes the president needed to win reelection.
A press aide, whom Gillman declined to identify, asserted that the details of this scene were off the record and refused to distribute Gillman’s account. Only after Gillman appealed to then-press secretary Jay Carney was the report finally sent — a day after the fact and long after reporters’ deadlines had passed.
Journalists, of course, would prefer that the White House send the reports out untouched, and bristle at the interference.
“My view is the White House has no right to touch a pool report,” said Tom DeFrank of the National Journal. He added that:
It’s none of their business. If they want to challenge something by putting out a statement of their own, that’s their right. It’s also their prerogative to jawbone a reporter, which often happens. But they have no right to alter a pool report unilaterally.
White House press secretary Josh Earnest declined to comment on the record to the Post, but his chief deputy, Eric Schultz issued the following statement:
We value the role of the independent press pool, which provides timely, extensive, and important coverage of the president and his activities while at the White House and around the world. That is why, at the request of the White House Correspondents Association, the White House has distributed 20,000 pool reports in the past six years, and we will continue to offer that facilitation for journalists as they work to chronicle the presidency.
That sounds fine except that the White House has no intention of altering its policy of scrutinizing the pool reports, and running the risk that a negative report will make its way into the media.
President Obama vowed that his administration would be the most transparent in history, but as scandals and other problems have mounted, it has instead become one of lies, denials and complete obfuscation.