Press Corps: White House Treats Us Badly

Friday, 23 Dec 2011 12:53 PM

By Henry J. Reske and Dan Weil

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You’d think that with a Democrat living at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave., mainstream journalists in the capital would be fat and happy. But the White House press corps has plenty of complaints with the Obama administration, The Washington Post reports.

When administration officials are upset with a reporter’s coverage, they go right after him/her with maximum force, the journalists say.

“They shoot first and ask questions later,” Julie Mason, who has covered the George W. Bush and Obama administrations for the Houston Chronicle, the Washington Examiner and Politico, told The Post.

White House press secretary Jay Carney wrote an e-mail calling one of Mason’s stories “partisan, inflammatory and tendentious.” . The e-mails from Carney are referred to as “nastygrams” by reporters.

National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor reacted harshly to remarks Mason made on television. He sent her an e-mail with a picture of a crying mime, implying she’s a whiner.

“They don’t seem to realize or care that [e-mails sent from the White House] will become part of the official archives of the presidency,” said Mason, who now hosts a talk show about politics on Sirius XM Radio.

To be sure, this isn’t the first administration to have spats with the press. President Richard Nixon and his vice president, Spiro Agnew, had an extremely adversarial relationship with the press when the Watergate scandal hit. The George W. Bush and Clinton administrations also had periods of conflict with the media.

So it’s not a huge surprise that the Obama administration is now having its own issues with the media. To some extent it comes with the territory of poor performance by the president. When the president has broad public approval, press coverage is generally favorable. So there’s no need for the White House to fight the press. But when a president’s popularity goes south, and the media covers that news, the White House gets upset.

Carney defended the press office and maintained interactions with reporters are professional and added that profanity is part of the job. He told the Post that as a reporter for Time magazine he often got profane reviews of his work from Clinton and Bush press office officials. He said criticism of his office was “pretty thin.”

The situation prompted a recent meeting between the press office and the White House Correspondents’ Association. The group’s president, Reuters reporter Caren Bohan, declined to provide details of the meeting, the Post reported.

Regardless, a number of reporters don’t see much to get excited about.
“My basic take is this is a contentious profession, especially in [the White House] beat, and there’s a lot of back and forth that goes on in private conversations,” Jake Tapper, ABC News’ senior White House correspondent told the Post. “But I have never felt they went beyond the pale. I have a thick skin, and they do, too.”

Politico’s senior White House correspondent Glenn Thrush told the Post his relations with the White House press office is much more mild that what he experienced covering New York politics.

“Coming from a New York tabloid background, having a flack speak to me in an elevated tone does not make me crawl under my desk,” he told the Post. “It does not terrify me to have someone raise their voice occasionally. The expectation in covering the White House is that it’s always going to be about using the good china. Sometimes this is about paper plates.”


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