Obama, DC Press Corps Locked in Mutual Loathing Pact

Fight disinformation: Sign up for the free Mother Jones Daily newsletter and follow the news that matters.


Over at Politico today, Jim VandeHei and Mike Allen have a long piece about press corps unhappiness with their access to President Obama. Their timing is unfortunate, coming just a day after the press corps embarrassed itself by coming completely unglued over….

….their lack of access to Obama’s golf date this weekend with Tiger Woods. Seriously:

The frustrated Obama press corps neared rebellion this past holiday weekend when reporters and photographers were not even allowed onto the Floridian National Golf Club, where Obama was golfing. That breached the tradition of the pool “holding” in the clubhouse and often covering — and even questioning — the president on the first and last holes.

Yep. They “neared rebellion” not over OLC memos or drone strikes or FOIA tardiness or leak prosecutions, but over their inability to ask Obama questions—tough ones! penetrating ones!—before and after he hit the links. Sheesh.

I wish I knew what to think about this. Does Obama keep a very, very tight rein on press coverage? Yes, he sure seems to. In fact, every president seems to keep a slightly tighter grip on the reins than the previous one. I’m not very happy about that.

At the same time, the reporters interviewed for this piece seem to be weirdly upset over the fact that the Obama White House uses Twitter and Facebook and releases lots of its own photos. But why is this a problem? It’s 2013, guys. Why shouldn’t a president communicate with the public using whatever mediums the public happens to consume? Over the past century, that’s evolved from whistle-stop tours to radio to TV to Facebook, but so what? Why should reporters be unhappy about this?

They also complain that although the president gives lots of interviews (674 in his first term compared with 217 for George Bush), they’re mostly with local outlets, not with the national reporters “who are often most likely to ask tough, unpredictable questions.” I’d have more sympathy for this if national reporters really did ask lots of tough, unpredictable questions, but I’m afraid I’m mostly on Obama’s side on this one:

The president’s staff often finds Washington reporters whiny, needy and too enamored with trivial matters or their own self-importance….Obama and his team, especially newly promoted senior adviser Dan Pfeiffer, often bemoan the media’s endless chase of superficial and distracting storylines.

For evidence of how true this is, check out John Cook’s serial tweeting of every inane question that Mike Allen lobbed at President Bush during a May 2008 interview. Start here and work your way down. It’s not a pretty sight.

What to think? I’d like the president of the United States to make himself more available for tough questioning on a routine basis. However, I’d also like a national press corps that pays enough attention to policy that it can ask tough questions and then keep drilling down when they’re getting brushed off. But most of them don’t. They ask predictable questions based on whatever the opposition party happens to be kvetching about at the moment, and that represents the limit of what they can do. I’m pretty sure you could give Mike Allen a ten-hour interview with the president and he still wouldn’t be able to nail him down on a tough policy question of any importance. He either doesn’t care, doesn’t have the background knowledge to do it, or both.

What to do? Obama is right: the DC press corps is hardly worth engaging with on subjects of any substance. But the DC press corps is also right: he should make himself available anyway. If reporters don’t lay a glove on him, that’s their problem, not his.

LET’S TALK ABOUT OPTIMISM FOR A CHANGE

Democracy and journalism are in crisis mode—and have been for a while. So how about doing something different?

Mother Jones did. We just merged with the Center for Investigative Reporting, bringing the radio show Reveal, the documentary film team CIR Studios, and Mother Jones together as one bigger, bolder investigative journalism nonprofit.

And this is the first time we’re asking you to support the new organization we’re building. In “Less Dreading, More Doing,” we lay it all out for you: why we merged, how we’re stronger together, why we’re optimistic about the work ahead, and why we need to raise the First $500,000 in online donations by June 22.

It won’t be easy. There are many exciting new things to share with you, but spoiler: Wiggle room in our budget is not among them. We can’t afford missing these goals. We need this to be a big one. Falling flat would be utterly devastating right now.

A First $500,000 donation of $500, $50, or $5 would mean the world to us—a signal that you believe in the power of independent investigative reporting like we do. And whether you can pitch in or not, we have a free Strengthen Journalism sticker for you so you can help us spread the word and make the most of this huge moment.

payment methods

LET’S TALK ABOUT OPTIMISM FOR A CHANGE

Democracy and journalism are in crisis mode—and have been for a while. So how about doing something different?

Mother Jones did. We just merged with the Center for Investigative Reporting, bringing the radio show Reveal, the documentary film team CIR Studios, and Mother Jones together as one bigger, bolder investigative journalism nonprofit.

And this is the first time we’re asking you to support the new organization we’re building. In “Less Dreading, More Doing,” we lay it all out for you: why we merged, how we’re stronger together, why we’re optimistic about the work ahead, and why we need to raise the First $500,000 in online donations by June 22.

It won’t be easy. There are many exciting new things to share with you, but spoiler: Wiggle room in our budget is not among them. We can’t afford missing these goals. We need this to be a big one. Falling flat would be utterly devastating right now.

A First $500,000 donation of $500, $50, or $5 would mean the world to us—a signal that you believe in the power of independent investigative reporting like we do. And whether you can pitch in or not, we have a free Strengthen Journalism sticker for you so you can help us spread the word and make the most of this huge moment.

payment methods

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our free newsletter

Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily to have our top stories delivered directly to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate