tintinnabular (tintinnabular) wrote in ontd_political,
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No Love Lost Between Obama and the Media

A month-and-a-half ago two journalists, who cover the White House beat full-time, sat down to dinner.

They were soon talking about the topic du jour in DC - the souring of a great love affair that was captivating the pundits.

Well that's how the now supposedly testy relationship between the media and president Obama is being portrayed.

One of the reporters that night at dinner was Helen Thomas - the 89-year-old press corps veteran who's covered every president since John F Kennedy.

She's been a long-time critic of the control the White House media team wields over the press gallery.

That animosity goes back to June last year when she entered an exchange between CBS's Chip Reid and White House spokesman Robert Gibbs over the practice of giving reporters a heads up if they were going to be chosen to ask a question at a presidential press conference.

Helen Thomas: "I'm amazed. I'm amazed at you people who call for openness and transparency and-"

Robert Gibbs: "Helen, you haven't even heard the questions."

Chip Reid: "It doesn't matter. It's the process."

Thomas: "You have left open-"

Reid: "Even if there's a tough question, it's a question coming from somebody who was invited or was screened, or the question was screened."

Thomas: "It's shocking. It's really shocking."

Gibbs: "Chip, let's have this discussion at the conclusion of the town hall meeting. How about that?"

Reid: "OK."

Gibbs: "I think-"

Thomas: "No, no, no, we're having it now--"

Gibbs: "Well, I'd be happy to have it now."

Thomas: "It's a pattern."

Gibbs: "Which question did you object to at the town hall meeting, Helen?"

Thomas: "It's a pattern. It isn't the question-"

Gibbs: "What's a pattern?"

Thomas: "It's a pattern of controlling the press."

Gibbs: "How so? Is there any evidence currently going on that I'm controlling the press - poorly, I might add."

That was last June but Helen Thomas hasn't changed her views. She told Paul Brandus - the other reporter at that recent dinner - that the Obama White House is as bad as the Nixon administration in terms of withholding information.

Paul Brandus is the White House bureau chief for CNC (Capitol News) and host of West Wing Report - a daily radio show.

He's also one of the most prolific tweeters from inside the WH briefing room and if you have even a scant interest in US politics he's worth following.

He's not sure he buys the argument that this administration is any worse or better than others but he agrees it is different.

And a lot of that has to do with its use of new media.

"There are several ways to skin a cat", he told me.

"Is the White House traditional in the way it reaches out to various media outlets? No. But it's on Twitter and Facebook and You Tube."

"It's always a love-hate relationship between the president and the press but it's probably tipped in Barack Obama's favour at the moment because they've found a way to go around the big networks."

The latest sparring match inside the White House briefing room occurred this week when another veteran reporter, radio talk show host Lester Kinsolving challenged Robert Gibbs over the number of press conferences the president has held.

Lester Kinsolving: "In view of president Franklin Roosevelt's 998 press conferences, why has president Obama held not a single White House press conference since last July?"

Robert Gibbs: "Lester, what would you -- let me ask you this. Can I ask you just -- I just have one question."

Kinsolving: "You can ask me as many as you wish."

Gibbs: "Excellent. I'm just going to use one. When the president took eight questions from members of the White House press corps at the Nuclear Security Summit at the Washington Convention Centre, what would you call that?"

Kinsolving: "That was not a press conference."

Gibbs: "What would you call it?"

Kinsolving: "It was a select few."

Gibbs: "A select few what?"

Kinsolving: "A select few reporters. It was not a White House press conference. That was my question."


Gibbs: "Well, can I ask another question? I do want to - I'm going to -"

Kinsolving: "Of course you can."

Gibbs: I'm going to - can I take Chip's thing and just ask one more? What differently do you think the president would have done at the Nuclear Security Summit in taking the eight questions from members of the White House press corps that might have denoted - might have tripped your definition of a press conference?"

Kinsolving: "It would be a wonderful thing if he had allowed all reporters - just it would be wonderful if you would allow these front-rowers two questions and then go all the way back to the back and then come back and let them start again. That would be fair. (Laughter and applause.) Thank you very much."

Gibbs: "Lester, you're a happy occupant of the front row today and I hope that you will..."

Kinsolving: "No, it's not the front row, it's the second row."

And so it went on. Now a few cantankerous exchanges in press conference don't make for front page news.

But a story on the highly respected Politico website does. It's a must read for anyone covering Washington.

With the headline "Why reporters are down on Obama" it details what's being seen as the deteriorating relationship between the White House Press Corp and the president.

It recounts the joke the president made at the White House Correspondents' Association dinner last year just months after taking office.

"Most of you covered me. All of you voted for me," he said with a laugh.

Based on Politico's report, he'd be getting too votes now.

It says the relationship is hostile and that the White House is thin-skinned, controlling and stingy with even basic information.

Day-to-day communication with the president is rare and he talks to the press less often than Bill Clinton or George W Bush.

You can see the full article here.

The high profile White House Correspondents dinner was on again just last weekend.

Some people call it a nerdy, older version of the high school prom.

On Saturday night, the president and his administration dined with political reporters and Hollywood celebrities like The Jonas Brothers.

Although just like prom, you may dance with a few different partners, generally the nerds go home alone and a bit disappointed the next morning. And everyone in DC is a nerd.

For one night, president Obama broke bread and drank wine with the Washington press, even though the relationship has been going south.

But just like high school, everyone likes the class clown.

The president, usually reserved and aloof, was allowed to be the comedian for one day (with the help of a team of professional joke writers).

The setting also allowed him to complain more openly about how he feels he's been treated and mistreated by the press. He mocked Rupert Murdoch's Fox News for turning his every action into the left leaning conspiracy and teased MSNBC for being too kind to him most of the time.

He also gave a hard time to Politico, the political news website, who wrote the story about the antagonistic relationship.

But he also made fun of himself, including that controversial Nobel Peace Prize win.

"I had my heart set on the Nobel Prize for Physics but hey you can't win them all," he said.

At the end of the night, everyone seems to get along.

As Mr Obama put it, "Politics can be a tough business, but there are times you just can't help but laugh."

But the laughs tend to last just for one night. The celebrities go back to Hollywood. The nerds stay put in DC and the tension between the White House and the press corps stays in place.

Lisa Millar is one of the ABC's north America correspondents, based in Washington.

You can follow Lisa Millar at www.twitter.com/lisamillar.

Source

Tags: barack obama, media
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