President Obama appeared at a $7,500 a plate fundraiser yesterday but with limited press coverage as the White House banned Bay area newspapers from the event.
The San Francisco Chronicle’s Joe Garofoli reported that a small pool of Washingtom-based reporters will be covering the event instead, a move that was roundly criticized by both Republicans and Democrats alike.
Three former top White House press aides called the move insular and politically short-sighted. And some press watchers said it is hypocritical for an administration that Obama promised would be “the most transparent in history.”
Nicolle Wallace, a former press secretary to Republican President George W. Bush, called the ban “idiotic … inexplicable on the politics side, let alone the press side.”
“For a Democrat to go to San Francisco and not invite the local press is like George W. Bush going to Crawford, Texas” and doing the same, she said. “This is a place where people want to be reminded about what they love about the guy.”
Chris Lehane, a former spokesman for Democratic President Bill Clinton, was also baffled by the move, saying they always had local pools.
“It’s not only the right thing to do in terms of respecting the Fourth Estate, but it typically translates into better press coverage,” he said. “It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that access results in the occupying of more real estate in the newspaper and on television.”
Ken Lisaius, who oversaw local White House press coverage as a former deputy director of the office of media affairs in the Bush administration, said he “simply can’t recall a time where we didn’t provide for a local pool. It’s part of a transparent and identifiable government.”
That being said the White House was tight lipped about the policy.
The White House declined Monday to say why no local reporters would be allowed to attend today’s event, nor whether the ban on local media was part of a new national policy.
“As per usual, the White House traveling press pool will cover the President’s remarks at his Bay Area campaign event and a transcript of his speech will be circulated to local and national media outlets,” White House spokesman Adam Abrams wrote in an e-mail response to The Chronicle.
It hasn’t been completely smooth sailing for Obama in San Francisco. In April 2008 he was caught on tape telling an audience at a fundraiser that small-town voters “cling to guns or religion” -which provided endless fodder for Republicans during the campaign.
Then earlier this year political writer Carla Marinucci, who was serving as a pool reporter infuriated the White House by video recording a protest at a fundraiser and said she had violated a rule forbidding print reporters from video recording. The only problem is that there is no such rule.
As the president’s poll numbers have dropped so have his relations with the mainstream media deteriorated and this action in a bastion of liberalism will do little to help them as he struggles to hold on to a job the media helped elect him to three years ago.