Obama 'Least Accessible' of Presidents, WH Correspondents Say

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Wednesday, 26 Feb 2014 11:29 AM

By John Gizzi

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Several of the most venerable White House correspondents agree that Barack Obama is the least accessible to the media of any modern president.

During a panel discussion Tuesday at the 100th anniversary celebration of the White House Correspondents Association in Washington, D.C., three past presidents of the association were asked if Obama is the "least accessible" to reporters of any president they have covered.

"I would say that," replied Reuters correspondent Steve Holland, who has covered every president since George H.W. Bush.

Holland recalled how the elder Bush would give White House reporters a half-hour notice that he'd "come down to the briefing room and take all questions."

"We've lost some of that. That 'give and take' is missing now," he said.

Holland's view was seconded by another past WHCA president, Ann Compton of ABC News, who said access to the president today "is far worse" than it has ever been.

Compton, who has covered seven presidents under 17 White House press secretaries, said she and her colleagues "go months and months" without seeing Obama.

Compton contrasted the attitude of the Obama White House toward reporters who cover the president to that of President Gerald Ford.

"President Ford was a creature of Congress. He knew all the reporters and was not afraid of communicating directly with them, not through set videos," Compton said.

George Condon Jr., White House correspondent for National Journal and another past WHCA president, said, "They do their own news now and go around us."

Condon said the administration now "has its own news broadcast" on the White House website in which the president is "interviewed" by Deputy Press Secretary Josh Earnest and sometimes reveals meetings he had that White House correspondents didn't know about.

The correspondents on the panel agreed that they didn't learn about a meeting this week that Obama held alone with Republican House Speaker John Boehner until four hours after it occurred.

The meeting was the first the president and speaker had had in months. There was no appearance before reporters and no video clips of the two leaders together.

Periods when the White House has distanced itself from reporters have happened before, the panelists noted.

President Woodrow Wilson, who met regularly with reporters, grew angry after a news conference in July 1913 in which he made an off-the-record remark that "the Mexican government can't last."

The comment appeared in the daily newspapers and Wilson, who felt betrayed, abruptly canceled presidential news conferences.

The New York Times' much respected correspondent Richard Houlihan apologized to Wilson on behalf of his colleagues and helped craft a set of rules for "do's and don'ts" of those who cover the White House.

This soon evolved into the charter of the White House Correspondents Association, signed by 11 reporters and President Wilson on Feb. 25, 1914 — 100 years ago this week.

John Gizzi is chief political columnist and White House correspondent for Newsmax.


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