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White House Press Corps Bristles As Obama Limits Access

Journalists are starting to notice that the President is being very selective in the kind of media he’s allowing himself to be exposed to, and especially the fact that he seems to be spending a lot of time talking to “soft” media while avoiding anything resembling a format White House Press Conference, the last of which was two months ago:

 Forget Chris Matthews — he’ll take Nancy O’Dell.

President Barack Obama has been taking a lot of questions in the two months since his last press conference or national news interview. He’s just been doing them with ESPN, Entertainment Tonight, People Magazine and FM radio stations around the country, mostly to talk local sports and regional cuisine.

This isn’t a mistake. Even at the height of a campaign in which they’ve been firing hard at Mitt Romney and trying to keep hold of the news cycle, Obama’s reelection staffers are pretty sure most voters aren’t tuning in.

“People get their news in many different ways,” Obama campaign spokeswoman Jen Psaki told POLITICO. “Sometimes it’s turning on ‘Entertainment Tonight’ and seeing what the latest news is out there.”

Psaki said the president will be doing a variety of media appearances in the coming weeks with both national and local outlets, but for now, “We’re reaching an audience that may not be paying attention to the day-to-day political back and forth.”

That also lets them avoid the back-and-forth with the national press corps for much lighter outlets. Friday, Obama was behind closed doors at the White House to cap off a week in which Mitt Romney announced his running mate and Obama’s own vice president lit up controversy. But he was on the air: Obama called in to a New Mexico morning radio show to weigh in on “Call Me Maybe,” his favorite work-out songs and his ideal super power (he chose speaking any foreign language, though “the whole flying thing is pretty good”). The exchange ended with one co-host Kiki Garcia giggling, “I just flirted with the President of the United States of America.”

(….)

The decision to grant interviews to People and “Entertainment Tonight” after eight weeks without a news conference is proving to be a slight even the most high-profile, fair-minded White House reporters are not willing to suffer privately.

“I hate the fact that they have made me worry more about access than reporting. Why build a press briefing room if the president isn’t going to brief the press?” NBC News chief White House correspondent Chuck Todd told POLITICO, who said the White House’s disregard for the press has “reached a new low.” “Both campaigns say the press doesn’t cover them seriously. But the more they cordon us off, the harder it is for us to report on the issues.”

ABC News chief White House correspondent Jake Tapper made his frustrations with the White House known in a terse blog post hammering home how much time has elapsed since the president’s last presser.

“I know that defenders of the president will say the White House press corps is just being whiny. But the bottom line is presidents set precedents,” Tapper told POLITICO. “So President Romney, or Ryan, or whomever the next Republican president will be, will be able to use President Obama as a benchmark. And today’s defenders of today’s president may not find tomorrow’s president’s avoidance of questions not about chili or fave songs as acceptable.”

Some will say that the White House Press Corps is just being whiny, but I think Tapper and Todd both have a point here. Other than polishing his own image, nothing in the public interest is accomplished by the President answering questions about chili peppers, or some stupid pop song, or any other number of trivial nonsense that one gets from from the likes of Entertainment Tonight, Jay Leno, or some nameless morning radio host in New Mexico. One can understand perfectly why the White House and the campaign are doing this, of course, and it has nothing to do with reaching out to voters who frequent “non-traditional” news sources. As I wrote back in June, it’s all about controlling access to the President and limiting the opportunity for reporters to ask potentially problematic questions:

This is problematic primarily because it’s really not in the public interest for the White House to be able to control the press in this manner since allowing them to do that allows them to control the news cycle. If they don’t want the President to answer questions about the ongoing conflict between Eric Holder and Congress over Fast & Furious, for example, they just need to make sure that there aren’t many opportunities for the President to be confronted with questions. If there’s a story in the news cycle that they don’t want the President to answer, then they can just make a particular even a “no questions” event.  Even at the Daily Press Briefings, reporters other than those with the major television networks and news outlets struggle to get the opportunity to ask even a single question a month.

Indeed, as Jake Tapper noted in his blog post, the last time the President took a question from the press that wasn’t one shouted out while he was walked away was back in June when he said the private sector was “doing fine,” a comment for which he was instantly pillorried and which he retracted before the day was over. While there’s little evidence that this comment hurt the President in the polls, it was a distraction for the campaign and one can understand why the campaign would want to limit the probability of similar events as the election draws near, especially in light of last week’s gaffe-tastic performance by Vice-President Biden.

For a President who pledged transparency as a candidate, a pledge that he most emphatically lived up to in many respects having nothing to do with the press, it’s rather ironic that Obama is now hiding from the press via the old candidate’s trick of selective interviews and soft news appearances. What’s surprising, though, is the extent to which the press itself is quite clearly getting frustrated by the phenomenon.  Today, for example, Obama campaign spokeswoman Stephanie Cutter actually attempted to defend the rather obvious manner in which the President is avoiding the press:

(CNN) - Interviews with People magazine and Entertainment Tonight are just as important as sit-downs with national news media, President Barack Obama’s deputy campaign manager Stephanie Cutter said Sunday.

“Not more important, but equally important, and that is where a lot of Americans get their news,” Cutter said on CNN’s “State of the Union.” Obama answered questions from both People and ET this week, and while the questioning included some softballs, both interviews probed Obama about Vice President Joe Biden’s remarks in Virginia when he told a crowd that Mitt Romney’s regulatory policies would “put y’all back in chains.”

(…)

On Sunday, Cutter told CNN national political correspondent Jim Acosta that doing interviews with local outlets was as important as taking questions from national media.

“The president was talking to the reporters to the ground in Iowa. Do you think that is less important than talking to somebody like you? Everywhere that the president goes he is talking to reporters,” Cutter said.

I’ll cut Stephanie Cutter some slack for the comments about the availability to local press, but it strikes me that there’s still some value in the national press, the reporters most familiar with what’s going on in the White House and national politics, being able to question the President and the fact that he continues to avoid them suggests that he doesn’t want to answer the questions they might asked. However, now that his not talking to the press has itself become a news story, I don’t think the White House will be able to keep this up very long. Expect a press conference in the near future.

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About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May, 2010 and also writes at Below The Beltway. Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. wr says:

    The last time the president spoke to the political press was when he said the private sector was doing fine — which, as everybody who heard him speak knew he meant in comparison to the public sector, which has been decimated. But Republicans took the phrase out of context and started whining about it, and for the next three days, the only thing the crack political press wrote about was this terrible gaffe.

    I don’t like the president cordoning himself off from the press either. But Chuck Todd should know that he’s not the solution — he’s the problem. He and the rest of them who refuse to do any of the hard work of real reporting and instead yap on endlessly about “gaffes.”

    And yes, this is equally true about reporting on Romney.

    Maybe if the political press acted like a political press instead of like the hosts of Entertainment Tonight, politicians wouldn’t treat them with all the respect due tabloid clowns.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 25 Thumb down 7

  2. Argon says:

    Sorry but the White House Press corps is where real stories and detailed, significant stories go to die. “Is the President going to dump Biden?”, is not analysis. It’s fluff. Local press kicks their asses every day of the week.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 15 Thumb down 4

  3. @wr:

    I don’t entirely disagree, but what would you have them do? It’s not like they can sneak around the halls of the White House unnoticed looking for skullduggery.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  4. @Argon:

    The Biden questions are coming from the idiot pundits on cable, and Republicans, not reporters.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 8

  5. Moderate Mom says:

    I wonder how pissed off the White House Press corps is going to be about Cutter saying they are equal in stature with People magazine and Entertainment Tonight? That’s not exactly the best way to ensure positive press coverage from the White House press contingent.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 3

  6. Brett says:

    This doesn’t surprise me. Presidential campaigns treat the press like they treat any other means of public exposure: a way to get positive attention on their candidate, with the risk of embarrassing gaffes. The problem is that the odds of getting a gaffe are higher when dealing with the White House Press Corps than with softer news services (many of whom probably send the questions they’ll be asking to the campaign ahead of time), and the gain in public exposure isn’t that great.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 1

  7. al-Ameda says:

    The White House Press is a waste of time, bandwidth and oxygen.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 4

  8. rudderpedals says:

    The admin has nothing to gain by a presser shortly before the Republican convention. I expect we’ll have to wait at least another 2 weeks if there aren’t any intervening catastrophes.

    Speaking of that, for all the piss & vinegar I definitely do not miss the pre-election terror alerts.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 1

  9. Peter Lounsbury says:

    I don’t think he’s playing it wrongly, he really doesn’t have a choice does he? His base is busy playing offense, and all it would take is one question from the media to ignite a firestorm of criticism; Obama is not a fool in this regard, and it would be a mistake to think otherwise.

    For example what if a White House press correspondent asked what the Justice Department was doing for security at the GOP Convention in Tampa in light of the recent threat of the New Black Panthers?

    If that string gets pulled, he will have a disaster on his hands trying to disconnect the club wielding New Black Panthers in the last election who Holder would not prosecute despite being handed the case by the Bush Administration, they showed up in Sanford and made matters worse by putting a bounty on Zimmerman, and it was cited by the latest rant from the New Black Panthers who called on their faithful to disrupt the GOP Convention. The details are even worse, and he’s been lucky so far that nobody in the media has gone there.

    Iran, Syria, Egypt, Lebanon and Israel are all powder kegs that he has not been asked tough questions about, so yeah… of course he’s avoiding the press. Does he really have a choice?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 10

  10. al-Ameda says:

    I’ve never understood the value of the White house Press Corp, except for career advancement purposes for journalists. There is no real news that is gleaned by the WHPC that isn’t available to all news organizations. The WHPC is a time wasting anachronism.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 3

  11. Tsar Nicholas says:

    What’s funny about this is that Obama literally could go ahead and tell these useful idiots to pound sand but nevertheless in November they’ll vote for Obama by a larger margin than the likes of San Francisco County will vote for Obama. Literally.

    As for why Team Obama only wants to speak to Entertainment Tonight, Jay Leno, Rolling Stone, calling into local radio shows to talk about pop songs, etc., it’s entirely a function of demographics. For obvious reasons that’s Obama’s target audience.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 8

  12. PGlenn says:

    Doug wrote:

    For a President who pledged transparency as a candidate, a pledge that he most emphatically lived up to in many respects . . .

    I must have missed all the transparency. Care to refresh my memory with a few examples?

    . . . it’s rather ironic that Obama is now hiding from the press via the old candidate’s trick of selective interviews and soft news appearances.

    Perhaps ironic if you’re right about all the other “most emphatic” examples of transparency, but otherwise I think the word you’re looking for is predictable.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 2

  13. Dazedandconfused says:

    Poor baby’s. They should ask Mitt to take some questions from them instead.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 11 Thumb down 1

  14. PGlenn says:

    It’s utterly galling to the Obama administration that any reporter would ever wander off the JournoList reservation.

    What I’m curious about is whether Team Obama players genuinely believe/perceive that more than a few members of the White House Press Corps are tough on them (what a laugh!); or, they recognize that they get favorable treatment from the “serious press” (although not as favorable, obviously, as what they get from the JournoListers), nevertheless they are still annoyed that it’s not as helpful as it was two years ago.

    If it’s the latter, then what does say about the intellectual culture within the Obama camp?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 5

  15. MM says:

    @PGlenn: Jounolist? Is it 2010 already?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 2

  16. wr says:

    @Doug Mataconis: I’m thinking that intelligent, informed reporters can ask serious questions that demand serious answers, and then try to come to some understanding about what those answers mean. By reporting, I don’t mean the mindless mucking for scandal that would require sneaking around the halls of the White House — I mean actively engaging the president in a discussion of issues that matter.

    And I actually do believe this president would welcome that, to the extent that any powerful person ever welcomes being questioned. He seems to think his actions through, and I’ve seen him give long, involved answers to questions — long enough that the “professional” White House press corps starts shifting around in boredom. And I’ve also seen how irritated he gets at gotcha or other nonsense questions. He’s a professor — he likes to talk, and he likes to communicate information.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 0

  17. PGlenn says:

    @MM: Good point! When the JournoList scheme was exposed, all those people formerly on JournoList stopped chatting with each other, stopped networking with other “progressives” . . . heck, they stopped being “progressives”! Now, when one of them has an interesting idea, he/she feels a great sense of anxiety, lack of intellectual fulfillment, and isolation because he/she has no one to talk to. Now that you mention it, I feel really, really bad for the former JournoListers.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 4

  18. bill says:

    wow, even with the longest media honeymoon ever? really?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 2

  19. LC says:

    Perhaps there was a time when Press Conferences were useful, but I can’t remember when.

    As a group, the so-called journalists at these events are little more than political gossips who focus solely on the gaffes de jour, ask questions to which the answers are known and, most critically, know so very little about whatever subject the question concerns, that they are incapable of either framing it in a potentially useful way or in following up when the answer is evasive.

    And it honestly doesn’t matter whether the President in question is Republican or Democrat.

    The Press Conferences provide the public with almost zero value and serve mainly to feed the talking heads for the next day or two about, at this time, what it all means for the election.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  20. wr says:

    @PGlenn: ” When the JournoList scheme was exposed, all those people formerly on JournoList stopped chatting with each other”

    Oh my God — do you mean to say that some journalists actually talk to other members of their profession, unlike in every other field in the world? No wonder you’re so upset about Jounolist — you’ve discovered something so hugely breathtaking it’s almost unimaginable.

    Reporters talking to other reporters. Get the jail cells ready — this is big!

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 2

  21. bandit says:

    Actually People mag is the perfect outlet for the most vapid of all POTUS.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 9

  22. PGlenn says:

    @wr: In other words, you had no point in the first place. I used “JournoLister” as a shorthand for “progressive” “journalist.” You asked if it was still 2010. No, it’s not. Thanks for the great insight.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 7

  23. Gustopher says:

    If the press actually did its job, rather than playing the he-said/she-said/both-sides-do-it nonsense with things that are actually based in fact ($617M comes to mind), then I could see not just treating them with contempt.

    But they don’t, so contempt it is.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 0

  24. wr says:

    @PGlenn: My point was that you seem shocked that journalists communicate with each other — even progressive journalists — and act as if we’re supposed to draw some wicked inference from that. My point is that anyone who whines about “Journolist” is a know-nothing yahoo who mindlessly repeats spin from the sleaziest of right wing blogs instead of doing one second of critical thinking. My point is that anyone who thinks he is making some kind of point by shouting “Journolist” should only post at sites by and for morons — Red State or Wiz Bang — where it’s never necessary to have an idea as long as there’s a buzzphrase to repeat.

    My point was not, however, that the idiot notion of the “Journolist scandal” is two years out of date and now only the province of the dimmest of the mouth breathers. That was someone called MM.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 2

  25. Argon says:

    @Doug Mataconis:

    The Biden questions are coming from the idiot pundits on cable, and Republicans, not reporters

    One might hope for this but wishing doesn’t always make it so. Sadly, idiot, Republican pundits seen on cable are also WH press reporters.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  26. PGlenn says:

    @wr: Seeing as I’ve never once seen you engage in any sort of critical thinking whatsoever, my point obviously went over your head. That’s why I’ve engaged other “progressives” on this site, but have always had no use for you. This time, I responded to you before remembering that you have nothing useful to contribute. Thanks for reminding me. Good riddance.

    Btw, I’ve forgotten more than you’ll ever know.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 4

  27. An Interested Party says:

    For example what if a White House press correspondent asked what the Justice Department was doing for security at the GOP Convention in Tampa in light of the recent threat of the New Black Panthers?

    In other news, the Legion of Doom is planning an attack on the Hall of Justice and the Kingpin is planning a theft of the Federal Reserve of New York while Spider Man and Daredevil are out of town…

    What’s funny about this is that Obama literally could go ahead and tell these useful idiots to pound sand but nevertheless in November they’ll vote for Obama by a larger margin than the likes of San Francisco County will vote for Obama. Literally.

    Oh, that must be like in the same way that any poor or middle class person will vote for any Republican…

    It’s utterly galling to the Obama administration that any reporter would ever wander off the JournoList reservation.

    Ahh, JournoList, the gift that keeps on giving to conservative victims everywhere…

    wow, even with the longest media honeymoon ever? really?

    Speaking of conservative victims…

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  28. jan says:

    Let’s see…Romney is interviewed by Chuck Todd and Bob Schieffer, while the POTUS takes on late night TV and Nancy O’Dell. The contrast is telling, just like the content in these two condidates stump speeches. Obama brings up tax returns, dog pot shots as Romney talks the economy, jobs and now medicare.

    Finally, though, we have Niall Ferguson ‘s cover story on Newsweek :Hit the road, Barack, why we need a new president. Here is a gutsy newspiece, backed up by a plain look at the economy, saying what lots of people already know.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 7

  29. jan says:

    In a way the media is starting to wake up and take notice of the lack of their objectivity in Obama reporting. Mark Halperin has even admitted that, in referencing the press’s obsession with Romney’s tax returns:

    “I think the press still likes this story a lot, the media is very susceptible to doing what the Obama campaign wants, which is to focus on this,” said Halperin.

    Then you have Peggy Noonan comparing and contrasting what she believes would be the media’s coverage of a VP gaffe like Biden’s, if he were a republican. Remember the hay day they had about a certain republican VP simply misspelling a word?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 6

  30. bk says:

    Jan, you make me laugh.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 1

  31. bk says:

    Peggy Noonan! Mark Halperin! Oooooooooooo! Hard hitting journalists!

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  32. jan says:

    @bk:

    “Peggy Noonan! Mark Halperin! Oooooooooooo! Hard hitting journalists! “

    They’re both a part of the elite establishment media. Nancy O’Dell? she is entertainment lite.

    Differest strokes for different folks, as they say.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 8

  33. jan says:

    The Spinal Tap Presidency makes reference to the small Obama crowds versus the big Romney/Ryan ones, and the somewhat twisted, tortured explanation given by Obama team for the sizing of these crowds. There is also a good pointer in this article, that one would be well advised to read local media versus national nedia to get the real picture of what is happening out there.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 7

  34. Drew says:

    Nothing shays hard hitting journalism on the key issues of the day like Enertainment Tonight….or the View rubbing his crotch.

    Snicker

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 8

  35. Drew says:

    I remember when Chris Mathews was gushing, that infamous tingle no doubt now in need of a Kleenex and some dry cleaning telling us about Egypt and the Arab Spring “it’s almost as if it took Obama to make this happen.” Telling.

    The recently crucified probably would beg to differ, not to mention other countries. But I’m sure Whoopie can make the President feel fine…..and maybe even help Mr Mathews with his laundry problem…..

    Meanwhile Obamas spinmeisters would prefer he and JodyBoy stay in their bunker.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 8

  36. Davebo says:

    Jan tosses out yet another Powerlineblog link.

    Do you get paid for these Jan?

    And Doug, seriously. Can we finally can your libertarian claims? I’m pretty sure James can’t afford to pay you.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 1

  37. Wr says:

    @PGlenn: You should be proud of all you’ve forgotten. Alzheimers really is tragic, although it does explain a lot about you.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 1

  38. sam says:

    @Drew:

    Meanwhile Obamas spinmeisters would prefer he and JodyBoy stay in their bunker.

    Well, you know, as long as the Todd Akins and Manischewitz-impaired congresscriters of the Republican party succeed in putting a face on the Party, and giving the GOP poobahs shitfits in train, why should they come out of the bunker? When the opposition party is following a path of serial fvckupery, why distract from the show?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0