Grumbling in the White House Press Corps

Obama with press.JPG
President Obama with reporters in happier times (White House/Pete Souza)

Politico has an interesting piece up about displeasure within the White House press corps, which feels that it has been mistreated by the administration's press operation. Some of the complaints aren't particularly meaningful (Favoritism toward The New York Times, which sets the agenda for the whole media world? Shocking!). Others, however, are more troubling -- like the assertion that the White House retaliates against reporters who write things it doesn't like, with angry calls and e-mails and the occasional call to the reporter's editor.

That's the kind of thing reporters rightly condemned George W. Bush's White House for (see this ahead-of-its-time Prospect article by Nicholas Confessore). It's also something that matters a lot more to the public than whether the president is spending enough of his time schmoozing with reporters (which makes them feel important and gives them more quotes for their stories but doesn't really result in any greater informing of the public). If the White House is trying to intimidate reporters from writing critical stories, then it is undermining the basic function of the press in a free society.

It's also a strategically dumb move. It may help you get better coverage this week, but it sows the seeds of a rebellion. As the Politico piece points out, this White House hasn't faced a full-blown crisis yet, but chances are that at some point it will. When that day comes, it's going to be in trouble if the briefing room is a cauldron of seething resentment. When you're up, the press will report that you're up, and your coverage will be good. But when you're down, they can either report that you're down, or they can really stick the knife in. And how you've treated them up to that point will have no small effect on which approach reporters take.

-- Paul Waldman

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