By Mary Kate Cary, Thomas Jefferson Street blog
In my column this week, I supported a suggestion from a liberal blogger last year that news outlets restructure the White House press corps, to include reporters from specific beats--say, healthcare, financial reform, or foreign affairs--in an effort to bring more depth to White House reporting, counter the day-to-day political spin from the press office, and diffuse the tension between the existing press corps and Robert Gibbs’ office.
This morning’s issue of Politico features a long examination of the fight between the press corps and the White House, with tons of examples of how bad it’s getting:
Edward Luce of the Financial Times drew the ire of Obama aides for a couple of articles arguing that decision making in the Obama administration is extremely centralized. Neither piece was a devastating indictment of the White House, but they prompted a furious reaction.
"I was just in awe of the pummeling Ed took from top White House people," said policy blogger and New America Foundation senior fellow Steve Clemons. He began talking to White House reporters and came away convinced that what he calls an "extremely unhealthy" relationship has developed in which the White House generally cooperates only with reporters who are willing to write source greasers or other fawning articles ... "It’s not unusual to have shouting matches or the e-mail equivalent of that. It’s very, very aggressive behavior, taking issue with a thing you’ve written, an individual word, all sorts of things," said one White House reporter.
Note that the last one quoted didn’t want to be named. And there are tales of the White House bypassing the press corps. That is a long-time Washington tradition, but when that’s combined with no access for news reporters at all, it borders on propaganda:
One current focus of press corps ire are gauzy video features the White House’s staff videographer cranks out, taking advantage of behind-the-scenes access to Obama and his aides, such as a recent piece offering 'exclusive footage' of first lady Michelle Obama and Jill Biden touring Haiti.
"I think someone out there might mistake them for news, as opposed to slick publicity handouts for the White House," said [ABC News correspondent Ann] Compton. "To me, they’re mocking what we do."
No wonder reporters laughed out loud when Gibbs claimed this was the most transparent administration “in the history of our country.” They’re upset at the fact that there hasn’t been a press conference since last summer, that the administration won’t give most reporters the time of day (well, except the New York Times), and that the level of vitriol and profanity directed at reporters from press office assistants is unprecedented. It’s having a ripple effect throughout the media, adding to the anger and impatience on all sides.
It’s all part of a wider pattern of arrogance at the White House that began in those first few days in office, when the President reminded Republican leaders: “I won.” He’s still saying it, in so many words, and this time it’s to the press. It’s all part of the permanent campaign that is fueling voter discontent and frustration with incumbents.