Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Obama's Post-Constitutional Wingmen

Access, bias, herd mentality in Munro incident -- the corruption of the White House press corps.

"Good evening, everybody. (Applause.) I would like to welcome you all to the 10-day anniversary of my first 100 days. (Laughter.) I am Barack Obama. Most of you covered me. All of you voted for me. (Laughter and applause.) Apologies to the Fox table. (Laughter.) They're -- where are they? I have to confess I really did not want to be here tonight, but I knew I had to come -- just one more problem that I've inherited from George W. Bush. (Laughter.)" -- President Obama addressing the 2009 White House Correspondent's Dinner

You don't interrupt the president.

So goes the media narrative in the wake of the media hysteria surrounding the Daily Caller's Neil Munro and his so-called "heckling" of President Obama.

Yeah, right. This is bunk.

A pluperfect illustration of a double-standard, as was illustrated in this space yesterday with a video clip of the White House press corps not only interrupting then-President Ronald Reagan as he read a statement but then shouting and shrieking at him as he left the room.

But is there more than meets the eye in this dust-up over Mr. Munro? (Munro, by the way, a longtime professional who formerly reported for the respected National Journal has answered his critics here stating the obvious -- he had no intention of interrupting the President but simply thought the President had finished his statement.)

Yes. There is more here. A lot more. None of it pretty.

Someone needs to say this: There is a culture of corruption in the media world that is the White House press corps.

Let's be specific.

This corruption -- corruption defined as not honestly reporting the news or asking hard questions of the President of the United States and his White House colleagues -- revolves around three very real, very specific problems. And a looming fourth problem that we will get to shortly.

• Problem One: Access -- Not unnaturally, White House reporters want access to the President, the Vice President, and the White House staff. That is, in theory at least, why there is a White House press corps in the first place. They are there to report to the rest of us -- the "rest of us" defined as both the American people and the world at large -- what's going on in the Oval Office and environs.

Sounds unremarkable, yes? In practice -- no. What happens in the real world is that the White House -- the President personally and his band of loyalists, generally represented to the press by the White House press secretary -- always have a message to get out. This fact of daily presidential necessity effectively sets up a world class game of the carrot-and-the- stick -- with the White House in charge.

If the White House likes you -- you being a White House reporter -- then presto! You get the carrot! You get the access to the President and all that this implies -- his staff, his Vice President, his wife. Even more of a bonus -- the White House will signal to your news organization that someone outside the immediate presidential orbit -- a Cabinet Secretary, say, or a major presidential ally on Capitol Hill or even outside the government -- will talk/confide/leak to your guys.

And there's another way White House correspondents seek the carrot. They use their skills to build up the image of White House official X -- from the President all the way down to the lowliest staffer.

This reality of dealing with the White House press corps would drive then-Reagan White House Chief of Staff Donald T. Regan to frustrated furies. Regan had succeeded the politically savvy James Baker, but his public image quickly went downhill, unlike Baker's. Regan had been the CEO of Wall Street's Merrill Lynch before becoming Reagan's Treasury Secretary, a job that suited him. But being a White House chief of staff is a political job requiring political sensibilities, which Regan, alas, did not have. He was the veritable babe in the woods when dealing with the White House press corps. He realized -- too late -- how the game was played. Why Jim Baker got favorable press -- and he didn't. Said Regan later in his unhappy memoir, For the Record:

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