“President Barack Obama is a master at limiting, shaping and manipulating media coverage of himself and his White House.”
If anyone asked you where those remarks came from, you’d likely say it was some conservative news outlet or blog. You might even say it was the rant of a Republican pundit.
But you would be wrong on all levels.
That quote is actually the opening line to a scathing, four-page column by Jim Vandehei and Mike Allen on Politico.
“Not for the reason that conservatives suspect: namely, that a liberal press willingly and eagerly allows itself to get manipulated,” the column continues, offering a defense for the press and placing full blame on the White House. “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.”
Still, in the accompanying video version of the story, Vandehei admits that while the critique of Obama being a “puppet master” who pulls strings to get favorable coverage is generally a conservative critique, it is an “accurate one”:
The anger from the press came to a head this past weekend when the press corps wasn’t allowed full access to the president’s golf vacation (read our original story here).”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,” Politico explains.
The Politico article is filled with plenty of shots at the president and administration that vowed to be the most transparent. So we’ve included 10 of the most scathing sections that capture just how icy the press relationship has become.
10. President Barack Obama is a master at limiting, shaping and manipulating media coverage of himself and his White House.
9. “The White House gets away with stuff I would never have dreamed of doing. When I talk to White House reporters now, they say it’s really tough to do business with people who don’t see the need to be cooperative.” — Former Bill Clinton Press Secretary Mike McCurry
8. The president has shut down interviews with many of the White House reporters who know the most and ask the toughest questions. Instead, he spends way more time talking directly to voters via friendly shows and media personalities. Why bother with The New York Times beat reporter when Obama can go on “The View”?
7. Obama boasted Thursday during a Google+ Hangout from the White House: “This is the most transparent administration in history.” The people who cover him day to day see it very differently.
6. “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.” [Emphasis added]
5. But something is different with this White House. Obama’s aides are better at using technology and exploiting the president’s “brand.” They are more disciplined about cracking down on staff that leak, or reporters who write things they don’t like. And they are obsessed with taking advantage of Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and every other social media forums, not just for campaigns, but governing.
4. Conservatives assume a cozy relationship between this White House and the reporters who cover it. Wrong. Many reporters find Obama himself strangely fearful of talking with them and often aloof and cocky when he does. They find his staff needlessly stingy with information and thin-skinned about any tough coverage. He gets more-favorable-than-not coverage because many staffers are fearful of talking to reporters, even anonymously, and some reporters inevitably worry access or the chance of a presidential interview will decrease if they get in the face of this White House. [Emphasis added]
3. *The super-safe, softball interview is an Obama specialty. The kid glove interview of Obama and outgoing Secretary of State Hillary Clinton by Steve Kroft of CBS’s “60 Minutes” is simply the latest in a long line of these. Obama gives frequent interviews (an astonishing 674 in his first term, compared with 217 for President George W. Bush), but they are often with network anchors or local TV stations, and rarely with the reporters who cover the White House day to day.
2. * There’s the classic weekend document dump to avoid negative coverage. By our count, the White House has done this nearly two dozen times, and almost always to minimize attention to embarrassing or messy facts. “What you guys call a document dump, we call transparency,” the White House’s Earnest shot back. If that’s the case, the White House was exceptionally transparent during the Solyndra controversy, releasing details three times on a Friday.
1. * While White House officials deny it is intentional, this administration —like its predecessors — does some good old-fashioned bullying of reporters: making clear there will be no interviews, or even questions at press conferences, if aides are displeased with their coverage.
A separate video attached to the piece puts together some of Obama’s “softball” interviews:
The entire article is a must-read and can be seen here.