Accuracy in Media

Helen Thomas, the veteran White House reporter who thinks there aren’t enough liberals in the press, reached her breaking point yesterday with the Obama White House’s attempts to manage the news. She publicly scolded Obama’s team for handpicking the questions at a faux virtual town-hall event on health care and then insulted President Obama by saying he is worse than Richard Nixon.

First the video from the daily White House press briefing, where Chip Reid of CBS joined Thomas in grilling press secretary Robert Gibbs about the town hall:

Now for Thomas’ profanity-laced rant to CNSNews, where she complained that not even Nixon, the epitome of a bad president to liberal reporters from the Watergate era, tried to control the press like Obama has in his early days:

“What the hell do they think we are, puppets?” Thomas said. “They’re supposed to stay out of our business. They are our public servants. We pay them.”

Thomas said she was especially concerned about the arrangement between the Obama administration and a writer from the liberal Huffington Post Web site. The writer was invited by the White House to President Obama’s press conference last week on the understanding that he would ask Obama a question about Iran from among questions that had been sent to him by people in Iran.

“When you call the reporter the night before you know damn well what they are going to ask to control you,” Thomas said.

“I’m not saying there has never been managed news before, but this is carried to fare-thee-well — for the town halls, for the press conferences,” she said. “It’s blatant. They don’t give a damn if you know it or not. They ought to be hanging their heads in shame.”

Yesterday’s public airing of press grievances is the latest sign of trouble for Obama’s stage managers, and Michael Wolff’s essay in the July issue of Vanity Fair may have something to do with that. Like the “Saturday Night Live” skit that embarrassed Obama worshippers in the press into tougher coverage during the 2008 Democratic primary, Wolff’s essay reminded reporters that every White House (and presidential candidate) tries to manipulate the press — and that the Obama team is especially adept at doing so.

The media navel-gazing has been intense since then:

  • Phil Bronstein of the San Franciso Chronicle scolded the press for being seduced by Obama;
  • The Washington Post fired a liberal White House columnist who acknowledged that he was still trying to get his “sea legs” in covering Obama;
  • Doug Bates of The Oregonian decried today’s “gerbilism” as “soft and warm and cuddly, safe and timid, with no sharp teeth and no bite whatsoever”;
  • The establishment press in Washington went nuts when the White House gave liberal blogger Nico Pitney special treatment for Obama’s most recent press conference;
  • And Dan Thomasson of Scripps Howard News Service bemoaned the fact that Obama has “done a masterful job of keeping the Fourth Estate, if it even exists these days, off balance and frustrated.

The sudden burst of introspection is a good sign. Democracy benefits when the press is skeptical and feisty. But the media’s outcry about Obama’s management of the news isn’t necessarily signaling an end to his presidential honeymoon.

For now, journalists are asking more tough questions about how Obama is selling his messages than about what messages he is selling. Their egos have been bruised because Obama is bypassing them as often as he is using them, so they are striking back at the bruiser.

When the media are truly tired of being controlled by Obama, they will stop whining like puppies about process, get off his lap and start acting like the watchdogs they are supposed to be.

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