Obama disses press, flirts with bubble
President Obama has been the subject of a boatload of over-the-top criticism during his time in office, nonsense about fascism and communism that has no basis in reality. But if there’s one area that might lend itself to hyperbolic condemnation, it’s been his administration’s treatment of the press. On Tuesday, for example, police took the disturbing step of temporarily closing off Lafayette Park to keep the media away from a half-dozen veterans shackled themselves to the White House gate in protest of the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy.* (video via Ben Smith)
Credentialed reporters were eventually allowed in after CBS News’ Mark Knoller complained up the chain of command. Yet this incident came less than a week after a 75-minute pow-wow between Press Secretary Robert Gibbs and the White House press corps about persistent acrimony. Bloomberg’s Ed Chen, who heads the White House Correspondents’ Association, told Politico he requested the sit-down “to clear the air because in my 10-plus 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.”
And that meeting was a few days after the Obama administration essentially froze out reporters, both U.S. and foreign, from the Nuclear Security Summit. Dana Milbank described a scene in Washington reminiscent of “Soviet-era Moscow.”
In the middle of it all was Obama – occupant of an office once informally known as “leader of the free world” – putting on a clinic for some of the world’s greatest dictators in how to circumvent a free press.
The only part of the summit, other than a post-meeting news conference, that was visible to the public was Obama’s eight-minute opening statement, which ended with the words: “I’m going to ask that we take a few moments to allow the press to exit before our first session.”
Listen, I have some sympathy for the president ditching the press to see his kid’s soccer game or mocking the media’s ADD-level impatience. Obama has taken active steps to ward off the presidential bubble – it’s why he kept his BlackBerry and reads 10 staff-selected letters from the public each day. And by all accounts, he encourages debate among his advisers and seeks out conflicting viewpoints. But Chen’s description of the White House’s treatment of the press corps, the Summit shut out, and the abortive media ban of the protest Tuesday all point to something different, signs of a retreat.
It’s now been 273 days since Obama’s last prime-time, nationally televised press conference, 59 days longer than his famously insular predecessor’s longest drought. It would go a long way towards mending relations with the press — and reminding the public he’s not afraid to face tough questions — if he’d step before the firing line for the entire country to see.
* UPDATE: The U.S. Park Police took the blame Wednesday morning for shooing away reporters from the protest, with a spokesman telling Ben Smith it had nothing to do with the administration, but rather “a rookie, amateur error” by overzealous young officers. This is meaningful considering Obama was heckled by “don’t ask don’t tell” opponents in L.A. Monday, but doesn’t gloss over the White House’s frayed relationship with the press corps or change the fact he is overdue for a P.T. Q&A.