From watchdogs to lapdogs

President prefers playing keep-away with fawning media

It took a golf outing with Tiger Woods to get them riled up, but the national media are finally speaking out about the Obama White House’s cynical no-access media strategy.

Of course, they picked the absolute wrong time and wrong reason to pipe up. Few of us are going to shed any tears for the Washington press corps because the White House denied them access to the president’s round of golf with Tiger. It comes off as so much whining – and most Americans, if given the chance, would probably vote to leave the president the heck alone once in a while.

But it does provide an opportunity to look at how this White House – which promised to be the most transparent in history – has kept the pesky news media at bay, pretty much for four years.

The strategy is transparent even if the administration is not: Stay away from working journalists and the intrusive, hard-hitting questions they might ask. Go on The View to be fawned over, or the late-night talk shows to yuck it up. Grant a few interviews to safe local television reporters, most of whom will be overwhelmed and intimidated. Hold precious few press conferences.

This isn’t the view of one editorial page. It’s the considered opinion and personal experience of a range of journalists.

Regarding presidential sit-downs, The Washington Post’s Paul Farhi recently wrote:

Entertainment Tonight scored one last year. The New York Times did not.

The View has gotten several. The Washington Post hasn’t had one in years.

“Albuquerque radio station KOB-FM’s ‘Morning Mayhem’ crew interviewed him in August. The last time the Wall Street Journal did so was in 2009. ...

“Obama may be the least newspaper-friendly president in a generation.”

Nor is it just newspapers
complaining. The website Politico.com ran a double-byline article this week headlined “Obama, the puppet master.” In it, authors Jim VandeHei and Mike Allen write that “President Barack Obama is a master at limiting, shaping and manipulating media coverage of himself and his White House. ...

“With more technology (available to the White House), and fewer resources at many media companies, the balance of power between the White House and press has tipped unmistakably toward the government. This is an arguably dangerous development, and one that the Obama White House – fluent in digital media and no fan of the mainstream press – has exploited cleverly and ruthlessly. And future presidents from both parties will undoubtedly copy and expand on this approach.

“The super-safe, softball interview is an Obama specialty.”

It may seem paradoxical – that the president most adored by the media would keep them at arm’s length. But perhaps the adoration is, in part, only heightened by his playing hard to get: He selects the most sycophantic media for the rare papal visit, and the interviewers are only too giddy with exclusive giddiness to complain. Meanwhile, the press gallery is furiously fantasizing about which lucky guy or girl might catch the bouquet next.

“The way the president’s availability to the press has shrunk in the last two years is a disgrace,” ABC News White House reporter Ann Compton told Politico. Compton, who’s covered presidents closely since Ford, added: “This is different from every president I covered. This White House goes to extreme lengths to keep the press away.”

Note to the adoring media: You’re being played like a fiddle.

Besides the obvious dangers of such a cocoon encircling a U.S. president, it’s also a very unflattering statement about how ordinary Americans rank: It shows that the president is more concerned with serving his own interests than ours.

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