Is the press finally tiring of Obama?
If Dana Milbank is any example, they’re certainly not particularly happy with the way they were treated at the just ended nuclear summit in DC:
World leaders arriving in Washington for President Obama’s Nuclear Security Summit must have felt for a moment that they had instead been transported to Soviet-era Moscow.
They entered a capital that had become a military encampment, with camo-wearing military police in Humvees and enough Army vehicles to make it look like a May Day parade on New York Avenue, where a bicyclist was killed Monday by a National Guard truck.
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.”
Reporters for foreign outlets, admitted for the first time to the White House press pool, got the impression that the vaunted American freedoms are not all they’re cracked up to be.
Controlling the press through access and the amount of time they’re given with the subject of their interest is a pretty tried and true way less than free countries give the impression of having a free press when, in fact they don’t. I’m not suggesting that’s the case here – yet – but this bit by Milbank suggests that an opinion of how this administration works with the press is forming and it doesn’t appear favorable. That said, you also have to remember that the press thinks they should have unlimited access at all times, so there is certainly a natural friction there. But there’s also an expected, or at least a traditional level of access that I’m getting the impression the press is not seeing and are just now beginning to grumble about.
After citing a number of foreign reporter’s comments about their surprise at the press restrictions, Milbank says:
Reporters, even those on the White House beat for two decades, said these were the most restricted such meetings they had ever seen. They complained to both the administration and White House Correspondents’ Association, which will discuss the matter Thursday with White House press secretary Robert Gibbs.
The restrictions have become a common practice for the Obama White House. When Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu came to the White House a couple of weeks ago, reporters were kept away. Soon after that, Obama signed an executive order on abortion, again without any coverage.
Over the weekend, Obama broke with years of protocol and slipped off to a soccer game without the “protective” pool that is always in the vicinity of the president in case the unthinkable occurs. Obama joked about it later to Pakistan’s prime minister, saying reporters “were very upset.”
In “bilateral” meetings with foreign leaders, presidents usually take questions, or at least trade statements. But at most of Obama’s, there were only written “readouts.” Canada: “The president and the prime minister noted the enduring strength of our bilateral partnership.” India: “The two leaders vowed to continue to strengthen the robust relationship between the people of their countries.” Pakistan: “President Obama began by noting that he is very fond of Pakistan.”
Unlike Milbank and the rest of the press, I’m not particularly surprised by this. It has been fairly obvious that this administration has viewed the press as a tool to be manipulated from the beginning – in fact, it was fairly clear during the campaign. The vaunted “openness” of the campaign was a device used to paint a picture of a candidate who would conduct his presidency the same way. The reality has been far from the promise. Now the administration has no need – or it seems, desire – to have that promised openness and now the press, which was complicit in building the myth, is upset. They don’t seem to have yet picked up on the fact that this administration doesn’t see it’s role as that of governance and service. It’s there to rule. And controlling the message and manipulating the press is how one rules.