Tuesday Reads: The Poor Pitiful Press Corps

Meret Oppenheim fur lined tea cup

Good Morning!!

Yesterday Politico published one of their bizarre pieces about the trials and tribulations of the whiny Village media. According to Dylan Byers, the White House press corps experienced ‘Extreme frustration’ over ‘having absolutely no access’ to Obama during his brief golfing vacation over the long Presidents’ Day weekend.

Ed Henry, the Fox News correspondent and president of the White House Correspondents Association, released a statement Sunday evening in which he said the press corps had been given no access to the president, who was joined on his outing by star golfer Tiger Woods, and that the WHCA would fight for greater transparency in the days ahead.

“Speaking on behalf of the White House Correspondents Association, I can say a broad cross section of our members from print, radio, online and TV have today expressed extreme frustration to me about having absolutely no access to the President of the United States this entire weekend,” Henry said in a statement, relayed in a White House pool report. “There is a very simple but important principle we will continue to fight for today and in the days ahead: transparency.”

Has Ed Henry ever complained about the White House press not getting access to information about drone strikes? Has he released any statements about the White House not being “transparent” about the DOJ defending Bush’s torture policies or involvement by the administration in the prosecution of Aaron Swartz?

Ed Henry with Kim Kardashian

Ed Henry with Kim Kardashian

No, it’s only when the press corps sees an opportunity for star-fucking. Obama goes golfing with Tiger Woods and wants a little privacy–probably requested by Woods–and the press corps goes nuts over lack of “transparency.” Here’s the White House response to the kerfluffle:

“The press access granted by the White House today is entirely consistent with the press access offered for previous presidential golf outings,” Earnest said. “It’s also consistent with the press access promised to the White House Press Corps prior to arrival in Florida on Friday evening.”

Excuse me if I don’t see this as a major issue. But for Politico, it’s earth-shaking. This morning they’ve posted another of their “Behind the Curtain” exposes by Jim Vandehei and Mike Allen, and, as usual, it’s hilarious. Get this–the headline is “Obama, the puppet master.”

President Barack Obama is a master at limiting, shaping and manipulating media coverage of himself and his White House.

Not for the reason that conservatives suspect: namely, that a liberal press willingly and eagerly allows itself to get manipulated. Instead, the mastery mostly flows from a White House that has taken old tricks for shaping coverage (staged leaks, friendly interviews) and put them on steroids using new ones (social media, content creation, precision targeting). And it’s an equal opportunity strategy: Media across the ideological spectrum are left scrambling for access.

No, this is not a gag post from the Onion. Vandehei and Allen are deadly serious about what they see as a scandalous situation. They are horrified to report that the Obama administration likes to use new technologies like e-mail and social media to communicate with the American people instead of just letting the DC media filter their message for them.

The results are transformational. With more technology, and fewer resources at many media companies, the balance of power between the White House and press has tipped unmistakably toward the government. This is an arguably dangerous development, and one that the Obama White House — fluent in digital media and no fan of the mainstream press — has exploited cleverly and ruthlessly. And future presidents from both parties will undoubtedly copy and expand on this approach.

OMG! Scandalous!! And that’s just the beginning of a four-page article. Because this isn’t just about an outing with Tiger Woods. Oh no! It’s a vital national security isssue . . . or something. Turning to another related piece at Politico–this is obviously the issue of the week for them–Ed Henry says “This isn’t about a golf game.”

White House Correspondents Association president Ed Henry is standing by his complaints about the lack of press access to President Obama, pushing back against critics who say he and his fellow White House correspondents are just “whining” and don’t respect the president’s privacy.

“This is a fight for more access, period,” Henry told POLITICO late Monday night. “I’ve heard all kinds of critics saying the White House press corps is whining about a golf game and violating the president’s privacy. Nothing could be further from the truth.”

“We’re not interested in violating the president’s privacy. He’s entitled to vacations like everyone else. All we’re asking for is a brief exception, quick access, a quick photo-op on the 18th green,” Henry continued. “It’s not about golf — it’s about transparency and access in a broader sense.”

Sure, Ed. Back to the “Behind the Headlines” piece:

“The way the president’s availability to the press has shrunk in the last two years is a disgrace,” said ABC News White House reporter Ann Compton, who has covered every president back to Gerald R. Ford. “The president’s day-to-day policy development — on immigration, on guns — is almost totally opaque to the reporters trying to do a responsible job of covering it. There are no readouts from big meetings he has with people from the outside, and many of them aren’t even on his schedule. This is different from every president I covered. This White House goes to extreme lengths to keep the press away.”

So why doesn’t the press complain during and after those big meetings then? And then there’s this:

“White House handout photos used to be reserved for historically important events — 9/11, or deliberations about war,” Kraft said. “This White House regularly releases [day-in-the-life] images of the president … a nice picture of the president looking pensive … from events that could have been covered by the press pool. But I don’t blame the White House for doing it, because networks and newspapers use them. So the White House has built its own content distribution network.”

Armstrong Williams

Were any of these people around when the Bush administration was actually paying writers and pundits like Armstrong Williams to get their version of events into the media? From the NYT, January 29, 2005:

The Bush administration acknowledged on Friday that it had paid a third conservative commentator, and at least two departments said they were conducting internal inquiries to see if other journalists were under government contract. The investigative arm of Congress also formally began an inquiry of its own.

The Department of Health and Human Services confirmed having hired Michael McManus, who writes a weekly syndicated column and is director of a nonprofit group called Marriage Savers. Mr. McManus was paid $10,000 to help train counselors about marriage, an arrangement first reported in USA Today, but officials said he was paid for his expertise rather than to write columns supporting administration policies.

At the same time, the Government Accountability Office told the Education Department it was investigating a $240,000 contract with the commentator Armstrong Williams that came to light earlier this month, requesting that education officials turn over any paper or video materials related to the case. Another conservative writer, Maggie Gallagher, admitted earlier this week having a $21,500 deal with the Department of Health and Human Services.

Besieged with questions about contracts with outside public relations firms and columnists, officials at the Departments of Education and Health and Human Services said they were conducting their own inquiries…

Judith Miller, Dick Cheney puppet

Judith Miller, Dick Cheney puppet

Not to mention the supposedly legitimate reporters like Judy Miller who helped Bush/Cheney get us into the war in Iraq with the willing assistance of their editors and publishers. Here James C. Moore at Salon, from May 27, 2004:

When the full history of the Iraq war is written, one of its most scandalous chapters will be about how American journalists, in particular those at the New York Times, so easily allowed themselves to be manipulated by both dubious sources and untrustworthy White House officials into running stories that misled the nation about Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction. The Times finally acknowledged its grave errors in an extraordinary and lengthy editors note published Wednesday. The editors wrote:

“We have found … instances of coverage that was not as rigorous as it should have been … In some cases, the information that was controversial then, and seems questionable now, was insufficiently qualified or allowed to stand unchallenged. Looking back, we wish we had been more aggressive in re-examining the claims as new evidence emerged — or failed to emerge … We consider the story of Iraq’s weapons, and of the pattern of misinformation, to be unfinished business. And we fully intend to continue aggressive reporting aimed at setting the record straight.”

The editors conceded what intelligence sources had told me and numerous other reporters: that Pentagon favorite Ahmed Chalabi was feeding bad information to journalists and the White House and had set up a situation with Iraqi exiles where all of the influential institutions were shouting into the same garbage can, hearing the same echo. “Complicating matters for journalists, the accounts of these exiles were often eagerly confirmed by United States officials convinced of the need to intervene in Iraq. Administration officials now acknowledge that they sometimes fell for misinformation from these exile sources. So did many news organizations — in particular, this one.”

The reporter on many of the flawed stories at issue was Judith Miller, a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter and authority on the Middle East. The Times, insisting that the problem did not lie with any individual journalist, did not mention her name. The paper was presumably trying to take the high road by defending its reporter, but the omission seems peculiar. While her editors must share a large portion of the blame, the pieces ran under Miller’s byline. It was Miller who clearly placed far too much credence in unreliable sources, and then credulously used dubious administration officials to confirm what she was told.

That’s hardly ancient history, is it?

Here are a couple of good reactions to the Politico articles, while we wait for Charles Pierce to write about how he could barely keep himself from gargling anti-freeze this morning.

Annie Laurie at Balloon Juice:

Eight years of accusing the Clintons of every possible crime, up to and including large-scale drug running and multiple murders, followed by eight years of dutifully promulgating whatever bullshit and phantasms the Cheney Regency invented, and the Very Serious Media is shocked, shocked that President Obama would rather “spend way more time talking directly to voters via friendly shows and media personalities”. Or that “Obama’s aides are better at using technology and exploiting the president’s ‘brand.’… [T]hey are obsessed with taking advantage of Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and every other social media forums, not just for campaigns, but governing.”

Digby at Hullabloo:

The good news is that the Villagers don’t waste a lot of time and energy worrying about transparency when it comes to trivial information that is only interesting to gossip columnists. For instance, nobody’s issuing any ultimatums over silly issues like this:

For a country exhausted after more than a decade of war, remote-controlled drones—unmanned machines that deliver swift death to terrorists—are undeniably tempting. President Obama has ordered hundreds of strikes on “high-value,” as well as medium- and low-value, targets in Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia. The administration says these killings have decimated al-Qaeda’s top ranks and done significant damage to the Taliban but refuses to say much more. Obama has yet to explain the basics of the broader policy: how decisions are made to send drones across sovereign borders; how officials determine a target is dangerous enough to merit assassination; what oversight is in place; and what is done to limit civilian casualties

I’m awfully relieved that the fourth estate has its priorities straight.

So…that should get you started on your morning’s reading. I’ll have some links on other topics in the comments section. Now, what’s on your reading and blogging list today?

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