This story should be filed under generally true but not very significant criticism of Barack Obama. While there has often been the impression that Obama receives favored coverage from the press, there has actually been some friction. Even during the presidential campaign many noticed that Obama was somewhat distant from the press and the campaign was working hard to control the message.
Politco ran a story whining about this today as they noted most reporters prefer to keep this off the record because they “worry about appearing whiny.” They write:
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.
The attempts to control the issues are also understandable considering how much the right wing noise machine distorts the truth. Yes, ideally we would have a White House which is totally open with the press. However, considering how poorly the media (including Politico) often does in covering the issues, this attitude is understandable.
The report notes, “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.” I certainly have to agree with Obama here. I have also read elsewhere that Obama is often very sarcastic but keeps such remarks private, recognizing that his sarcasm might not always come off well publicly. While I don’t always agree with him, I tend to like what appears to be the real Obama as opposed to the Messiah image which some detractors believe is what attracts supporters.
The complaints against the White House might also be summarized in this item from the article:
The New York Times’ Peter Baker, who reported on the Clinton and Bush 43 administrations for the Washington Post, said that the Obama administration is “in some ways … more transparent,” but in other ways, “they’re just like every other White House.”
In some ways they are transparent and in some ways they are not. In some ways they are just like every other White House and in some ways they have changed things. Somehow none of this is terribly shocking, or different from what I anticipated.
Some of the problems might just come from the learning curve as White House staffers must figure out the best way to deal with the press. They must balance openness with trying to get out a message which is not totally distorted by the media. While, as I noted above, I heard these same complaints during the campaign, Chuck Todd believes that the Obama people have become more open since taking office.
“So far, I actually feel like the Obama White House is treating the press with more respect than the campaign,” Todd said, adding that it was a “myth” that the Obama campaign and traveling press corps had a great relationship. “There’s more access to these guys, weirdly enough, than during the campaign.”
Those who thought Obama was going to totally change everything bad about Washington overnight will be disappointed. Those who understand the real world will hardly be shocked by any of this.