Obama & The Press

For many people, the working assumption is that most of the press corps in Washington, D.C. is in the bag for any liberal cause, and right now especially supportive of the President Obama .  But on the ground, it's a much different view.

On Sunday, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs ripped the White House press corps and the press in general during an appearance on CNN's "Reliable Sources", all part of an escalating battle between the two sides.

"I sometimes joke that I know when somebody thinks they have a good question, because when I walk in they've already got their makeup on," Gibbs said about the White House briefings he conducts.

The comments came just a few days after press relations reached a boiling point at the White House, which resulted in a mini-summit between Gibbs and representatives of the news media.

"Press airs grievances to Gibbs" was the headline in Politico this weekend, after President Obama unexpectedly left the White House without a press pool in tow on Saturday April 10 to go to one of his daughter's soccer games.

Most people would probably say, "Good for Obama" for doing that - while reporters were aggravated by Obama breaking with years of protocol and leaving reporters behind.

The outrage over that soccer trip sparked a meeting between Gibbs and several reporters led by Bloomberg correspondent Ed Chen, who heads the White House Correspondent's Association.  

Chen's quote to Politico is very interesting, saying that in his over 10 years at the White House, "rarely have I sensed such a level of anger, which is wide and deep, among members over White House practices and attitude toward the press."

In other words, reporters feel like this administration is not being very open on a number of fronts.

At issue is how the Obama White House has limited press access to events, using its own photographer for example to take pictures, and not allowing photo opportunities and/or questions for Presidential meetings with other world leaders.

I know it goes against the working assumption that most reporters are a bunch of liberals who love nothing more than to pump up Democrats and tear down Republicans.  I know I won't convince a lot of people that things get ugly between the press and a Democratic Administration.

But conflict between press corps and White House is nothing new - and can be just as nasty whether it is a Republican or a Democrat in the White House.

At the end of the Clinton Administration, there was no love lost between the press corps and the White House media machine. 

Many of my colleagues felt they had been misled repeatedly during the Monica Lewinsky scandal, while the White House did its best to push back hard to keep the focus on something else.

Relations in the Bush Briefing Room weren't very good after the departure of Ari Fleischer, as daily conflict in the briefings over Iraq - and whether reporters had been lied to - became the norm between reporters and Press Secretary Scott McClellan.

The hardest thing about all of this is for people outside of the Washington News Bubble to understand the conflict between the press and the people they cover.

Much of it revolves around the issue of control and access.  The White House, or a member of Congress wants control over the message.  Reporters don't want any limits imposed upon them at all.

The media relations people think reporters are a bunch of mindless jerks.

Reporters think the media relations people are a bunch of mindless jerks.

I will never forget the guy in charge of radio in the Clinton White House, who screamed at me over the phone one time, telling me that I would never amount to anything in news.

My offense?

I told him I didn't want an interview with First Lady Hillary Clinton if I wasn't going to be allowed to ask questions about Whitewater.  He only wanted questions to relate to the subject of a trip she was taking to Miami, which was to be on education.

He wanted limits.  I didn't.

A few months ago, I tried to get some health care information out of a deputy of the White House Press Secretary.  All I got was a smug email basically saying that I was a nobody, and he had no reason to help me.

Back in the mid 1990s, I kept asking a tough question of Speaker Newt Gingrich.  His press people didn't like it and simply ended the Q&A sessions each time I raised the subject.

Years ago, I was in a small reporter sit-down with Sen. Sam Nunn of Georgia.  After about 25 minutes, we shut off our tape recorders and the three of us reporters and Nunn engaged in a blunt, off-the-record session of finger pointing about why it seemed like the Senator was more eager to be quoted in the New York Times than by our Georgia radio and newspaper outlets.

This type of friction is natural - but like I said before - I think it's hard for people who haven't been a reporter to understand.

And now we are seeing all of that get repeated with the Obama White House. For many people, the working assumption is that most of the press corps in Washington, D.C. is in the bag for any liberal cause, and right now especially supportive of the President Obama .  But on the ground, it's a much different view. On Sunday, White House Press Secretary Robert ...

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