Finally, the media revolt against another empty Obama vow
By Andrew Malcolm
Posted 09:02 AM ET
Two truths rule the relationship between a president and the White House media in modern times.
1) The media will always want more access, no matter how much they get.
2) Presidents and their image-makers, especially those chief executives in the most trouble with the least confidence, will always seek to control the flow of news. Particularly images of the chief executive, which last far longer than mere words.
What makes the current festering feud between the press corps and Jay Carney of news interest is the now-familiar disparity between Obama's over-blown promises and his chronically underwhelming delivery on those vows.
Sentient Americans will remember Obama's vow that his would be the most transparent presidential administration in history. Yeah, right. Remember how ObamaCare was going to be written wide-open on C-SPAN? Uh-huh.
Obama even appointed someone in full-time charge of pushing transparency everywhere. That worked so well that when Joe Biden met with him to check on progress, the meeting was closed to the media. Twice.
A problem with Obama's rhetorical reality, often enabled by a complicit media since 2009, is that when the president says something, as far as he's concerned, it is The Truth. You know, like keeping your doctor and health insurance if you like them. "Period." Dozens of times.
The Chicagoan is so surrounded by sycophants and access czar Valerie Jarrett that no one has the chutzpah to describe the discordant reality to The Boss.
According to Obama's own defensive testimony, he's so unaware of so much like the IRS scandal or the ObamaCare 404 implosion, that dozens of his aides are behind in their IRS tax payments for several years running. And no one does anything about it. Talk about chutzpah for a guy who hasn't met any government levy he wouldn't mind increasing on others after they finance his next fundraiser.
The current argument centers on Obama's White House photographer, Pete Souza and his staff. Like most presidential photographers, Souza came from the media (Chicago Tribune).
He has a professional's sharp eye for composition and seemingly unfettered access to Obama's official and backstage activities.
Remember the Situation Room shot during Osama bin Laden's assassination? Hillary Clinton's shocked face. Obama crouching in the corner. Souza has also captured POTUS with his feet on Oval Office furniture, with a haughty nose in the air awaiting a grand entrance somewhere and even admiring himself in a mirror.
Souza's coveted access places him where former press colleagues can only wish to go. But that's not what's new.
What's new are the image delivery systems. These include Twitter, Flickr and Instagram accounts and the White House blog and website, which unlike the ObamaCare site actually works.
These allow Obama to claim a kind of public transparency, giving individuals sanitized access to hidden moments with what are, in effect, mere photo news releases.
But the unspoken flip-side is these systems also allow Obama's strategists to release selective photographs directly to the public, showing Marian Robinson's son-in-law in the most favorable possible light, shaping the president's image free of any filtering or controls by an independent press corps.
And free of any embarrassing nosiness. With only a White House photographer on hand, you will, for instance, never see a shot of Obama slipping on ice to land on his South Side.
Remember that famous fly that kept landing on Obama's sweaty face? You only saw that because it happened during a news conference with independent photojournalists on hand. What else we don't see is anyone's guess.
The media's simmering unhappiness with this chronic violation of the government's social contract with a free press boiled over last week during a briefing by Jay Carney. He's one of many media members hired by the Obama team (including, don't forget, former chief strategist David Axelrod, also ex-Tribune).
The confrontation was ignited by a stinging op-ed by Santiago Lyon, head of photography for the Associated Press. Using words like "manifestly undemocratic" and "hypocritical defiance of the principles of openness and transparency he campaigned on," Lyon explained how Obama's tactics work and denounced the pol's systematic practice as far beyond normal procedures.
"By no stretch of the imagination are these images journalism," Lyon wrote. "Rather, they propagate an idealized portrayal of events on Pennsylvania Avenue."
And he added: "Until the White House revisits its draconian restrictions on photojournalists’ access to the president, information-savvy citizens, too, would be wise to treat those handout photos for what they are: propaganda."
Someone who trusted Americans to draw their own conclusions about elected leaders might argue that Obama's chronic information manipulations are catching up with him and at least contribute to the serious ongoing erosion of public trust, even among his long-time core supporters.
Reporters made their case in Friday's briefing. They cited last week's trip to and from South Africa as an example -- some 40 hours of air travel with Obama and George W. and Laura Bush on the same plane. And the Obama White House refusal to allow any photos of the two men together.
It is this administration's standard operating procedure to throw several pounds of ultimately meaningless words at any challenge. The president's official spokesman did a transparent job of bobbing and weaving, concluding with a non-committal commitment that he would have mocked during his journalism days:
"I can commit to you that we are working and have been working on expanding access where we can."
In other words, blah blah blah blah blah.