Political Animal


February 19, 2013 12:48 PM The Deadly Threat to the Fourth Estate

By Ed Kilgore

Yesterday I noted that it was such a slow news day that aggregators were heavily featuring the fatuous whining of the White House press corps over its inability to “cover” the president’s golf outing to Florida. Little did I know this “crisis” represented simply the latest and most egregious example of the Obama White House’s dastardly conspiracy to crush the Free Press via its refusal to make coverage easier. But hey: that’s why we have Politico’s Mike Allen and Jim VandeHei to give us a glimpse of realities “behind the curtain,” where “Obama, the Puppet-Master” (actual headline!) is engaging in sinister tactics—much of them derived from his infernal mastery of those new-fangled social media—to give people a favorable image of what he is doing unfiltered by the Fourth Estate.

Aware that they are skirting the boundaries of self-parody, Allen and VandeHei allow as how self-promotion is sorta kinda endemic to Presidents of the United States. Still:

[S]omething is different with this White House. Obama’s aides are better at using technology and exploiting the president’s “brand.” They are more disciplined about cracking down on staff that leak, or reporters who write things they don’t like. And they are obsessed with taking advantage of Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and every other social media forums, not just for campaigns, but governing.

There are two especially remarkable things about this piece. The first is that it proposes no real “solution” to the “problem,” other than (presumably) a press-friendly White House that promotes precisely the incestuous relationship with the MSM that conservatives complain about. And the second is that Allen and VandeHei do not acknowledge other factors vitiating old-fashioned media coverage, such as the steady shrinkage of reporting resources by the conglomerates owning the MSM. This latter point was made rather directly by Charles Pierce, of course:

It is not — repeat, not — the president’s fault that major media corporations are run by bean-counting morons. (It is his fault that he hasn’t done more on the issue of media consolidation, but that’s not what the PG’s [Presiding Genuises] are going on about here.) Of course the White House will exploit this fact to its own advantage. The White House is a political operation. That’s what those things do.

I’m with Pierce entirely in expressing frustration over the hijacking of entirely legitimate fears about media manipulation by those angry the White House isn’t enabling their saturation coverage of trivialities. The identification of “transparency” with the holy First Amendment right to pursue the president onto the golf links is a sign of something more dangerous than an uncooperative White House press office.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.


  • BC on February 19, 2013 1:09 PM:

    What I liked the best from the Vanderhei-Allen piece is their complaint that Obama is interviewed on 60 Minutes, The View, and various local papers but avoids the "knowledgeable" reporters in the Washington press corps. Then I think of the debates and how the questions from citizens were more relevant and, ummm, "knowledgeable" than the other two debates; I think of the recent Google interview, where the questions were crisp and on policy; and I think of the Reddit appearance, where questions were more relevant to issues of the day. Ahhh, it seems Obama prefers taking questions related to policy rather than questions related to process - but these latter are the knowledgeable ones, donchaknow.

  • Mudge on February 19, 2013 1:18 PM:

    The press are stenographers, especially for Republicans. Obama should, however, have been more considerate. He could have used a mathematics literate stenographer (should one exist: see reporting on Paul Ryan's budget) as a scorekeeper.

  • c u n d gulag on February 19, 2013 1:22 PM:

    Too many newspapers are dying of their own self-inflicted wounds.
    They have cut real reporters and news bureau's to keep the bean counters happy in the 5 or 6 corporations that own most of the newspaper business - and the other MSM outlets.

    The NY Times lost a lot of credibiliy with me, with Judith Miller's "reporting" in the run-up to the Iraq War - she was little more than Cheney's stenographer.
    (Having said that, to its credit, McClatchy - then, Knight-Ridder - did a great job.
    But that's because they weren't toadies and water-carriers who were concerned about their next invite to the DC Villagers cocktail parties, and fancy dinner parties, and what others would say about them and their coverage, since their HQ was based elsewhere).

    And now, with Sam Tanenhouse running the NY Times Sunday Book Review, and the fact that Frank Rich left, while Friedman, Bobo, and Modo, stayed, and they added Douche-hat, there's no reason to buy it, or subscribe, except for Krugman on Mondays and Fridays.
    Either my father or I bought the NY Times EVERY day from the time I was a child until I moved to NC in 2000. My sister and I took turns getting him subsriptions until he got ill last year, and passed away.
    And, with the cast of remaining Op-ed writers, and the sh*tty job Tanenhaus is doing with the Book Review, I haven't even bought the paper since April of last year.

    As for the White House Press Corp, what can I say?
    The less said, the better.

    When they're not toadies and water-carriers for Republican administrations, they play "GOTCHA!" and "Hey, d'ja hear any good gossip?" with Democratic ones.

    The are about as useful as mammaries on a male bovine. And Ed Henry is even less useful than that!

  • jjm on February 19, 2013 1:37 PM:

    What C U N D Gulag says is sadly all too true. I can only think that the big media sincerely believed that Obama's and other democrats' victories were flukes, and that the GOP or the old DLC types would eventually win out and so no one would ever ever ever find out about, much less talk about, the 1% vs. the rest.

    They counted on a return of the ancien régime to be quick, relatively painless, and for the GOP or DLC types to simply take credit for Obama's healing the economy so they could start right up again.

    This is also true culturally. I recall how poised the media were for Bush having prepared half a dozen TV series about the CIA, torture, et al. and pushing them front and center for almost his whole 8 year terms. Now they're kind of caught with their pants down, having to beg, borrow and steal from British shows to shape their offerings, for a public not only weary of phoniness at the governmental level regarding war and terror, but at the fictional one as well.

    Hollywood and television are scrambling right now for good material, and it looks like it hasn't been easy.

  • jkl; on February 19, 2013 1:47 PM:

    Saw Ed Henry of Fox News whimpering that the president wouldn't let them in to watch him golf.
    What a cry baby.
    Heard Joe Scarborough repeatedly wah-wah that the president won't reach out to those poor little dejected republicans.

    Yeah, those republicans, like the one who yelled out to the president "You Lie," with not one republican speaking out to condemn that act,
    Or those republicans who surreptitiously met on day one, including Tom Colburn, to plot against the president's success, and reject his every proposal?
    Or Mitch Turtle McConnell saying his main political goal was to make the president a one termer? And still blocks every move.
    Or those Republicans who filibustered 300 times since the president took office?
    Or those republicans with their trumped up and repetitive demands of the president's birth certificate and college transcripts, those calling this classy, thoughtfyl, intelligent man a socialist kenyan?
    Those opposing his cabinet nominations?
    Those relentlessly making conspiracy theories about Bengazi?
    The party that make it harder for people to vote ensuring longer lines and voter id laws and voter purges?
    The ones like Karl Rove thinking Ohio's votes would swing republican with some coo-coo cachoo to the voting machines that must've failed? Those republicans?
    That Rand Paul dude who talks like and sounds like a Valley Girl from the MTV days? He hates on the president.
    Ted Cruz? He hates on the president. Micelle Baughman?
    Boehner--who won't answer the phone or put down the JD?

    The republicans are a joke and a threat to the welfare of this nation.

  • deanarms on February 19, 2013 1:48 PM:

    For a great laugh, click on the link to Greg Mitchell's post at the end of Pierce's column. He lists questions that Mike Allen, co-author of the Politico article actually did ask when he interviewed W (in the midst of a financial crisis and a war). Two examples:

    All right. Mr. President, who does the better impression, Will Ferrell of you, or Dana Carvey of your father?

    Mr. President, I know you're going to hate this, but I'm hoping that we may twist your arm and talk about baseball for just a moment.

  • Mark-NC on February 19, 2013 1:50 PM:

    I heard that Obama went to the bathroom multiple times during the Benghazi raid. I DEMAND to know how many times and what specifically he was doing in there away from the press.

    Only a Nazi would cover up this behavior - he should be Impeached immediately unless he provides video!

  • c u n d gulag on February 19, 2013 2:02 PM:

    And don't forget the 8 years of them sniffing around poor Bill, Hillary, and Chelsea, looking for any reason to bring them down.

    The MSM was along for that 8-year circus tour, too - lending substance to the Conservatives bullsh*t!

    And then, the MSM acted like they were human cling-on cleaners when W took office, and after licking clean his @$$ and polishing his knob and private parts, asking if there was any more they could do for him?

    As if giving him a pass for 9/11 happening on his watch, and then grabbing pomp-pom's and polishing his bull-horn in the lead-up to his two wars and occupations, and 'pooh-poohing' and 'tisk-tisking' the torture and rendition - WAR CRIMES - and covering-up other major impeachable crimes and misdemeanors, wasn't enough.

    The biggest problem in this country IS OUR CORPORATE MSM!
    IT IS KILLING US!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • Lifelong Dem on February 19, 2013 2:10 PM:

    I remember the time George W. Bush decided to grant a one-on-one intervie to NPR but insisted on the right to choose the interviewer. NPR actually stood on its little hind legs and said, "NO!"

    I also remember all the "town halls" Bush did; he often talked about how much he enjoyed speaking directly to the people without the filter of the media.

    During every administration some member of the press whines about access. What's different this time is that it's Politico, a web-based media entity, instead of the usual print guy. Like David Broder.

  • jkl; on February 19, 2013 2:26 PM:

    Exactly, gulag.
    Bush's lies about Iraq WMDs, ignoring the critical Presidential Daily Briefing on the use of planes to attack US buildings while telling the messenger 'you covered your a$$, now leave.'
    As you said, 9/11 taking place on his watch.
    Bush and Cheney trying to reject a 9/11 investigation system, and later "testifying" not under oath.
    Immoral, illegal war.
    The outing of a CIA agent whose husband challenged the credibility of Bush and Cheney.

    Investigator Patrick Fitzgerald citing a cloud of bull$hit on that administration.

    Major housing and banking crisis that destroyed many people's livelihoods and quality of life.

    Not to mention the Bush was appointed by the Republican members of the Supreme Court in the 2000 election, after a vote count crisis in the state that his brother governed.

    And Reagan ignoring the AIDS crisis, allowing the S & L banking crisis, the trickle down lie that is just now getting its debunk, the Iran-Contra scandals. Most of his cabinet indicted on major issues. The beginning of the destruction of the middle class, the growth of the uncurbed power of the 1% ...

    But how does that stand up to a stained blue dress anyway? The press was all over that dress, but clearly allowed Bush and Cheney to get away with *everything.*

  • R on February 19, 2013 2:28 PM:

    Thanks, Ed, for the link to Charlie Pierce (as distasteful as it is to go to the Esquire website). He makes me laugh out loud: "The grammar in that second sentence went briefly to the zoo" and "Everybody sing! 'One of these things is not like the others, one of these things is not the same,'" for example. I was also brought almost to tears: "Yeah, that worked out well when Judy Miller was covering the WMD beat."

  • Epicurus on February 19, 2013 2:48 PM:

    Gee, it's almost like the Rethugs aren't even trying any more. Please, where was all the complaining about how Bush/Cheney were "politicizing" the White House?? Give me a break, the WH has been a political office since forever. Allen and VanderHei should really just fold up their tents. It's over, Johnny, over!

  • sick-n-effin-tired on February 19, 2013 4:26 PM:

    Allen and VandeHei !!!!!!
    Two of the worst hacks and dispensers of conventional wisdom on the planet. I have to suffer them both every am on mourning Joe , especially Allen who has yet to master that teleprompter thing and looks astounded that they actually let him on the TEEVEE machine.
    And JLK - I could have not said it better . They should be thankful Obama doesn't tell them to pound sand

  • Buzzed on Beans on February 19, 2013 6:07 PM:

    To quote the Monthly Facebook page, in all it's short, pithy brilliance:

    "If Allen and Vandehei didn't exist, The Onion would have to invent them."

  • schtick on February 19, 2013 7:25 PM:

    The press corp/media haven't done their jobs for 15 years. If they had, we might not have the failure of the Iraq war and the failures of politics in general, but all they have done is promote the lies of the teapubs. They should be ashamed of all the money they get for doing nothing.

  • Diana W on February 19, 2013 8:21 PM:

    Is there any real reason anyone still has to read Allen and VanderHei? I was tempted to just skip this piece, but I decided, OK, I shouldn't be biased, maybe they have a point. So I read it end to end. It was even worse than Kilgore said it was. The shtick for these guys has passed its sellby date. Charles Pierce from now on. Thanks for the link.

  • Diana W on February 19, 2013 8:26 PM:

    Gulag's comments on the NYT are right on. Let's not even dignify the LAT and WP with a mention. Their day is done. You can call Obama manipulative, because he and his staff are smart enough to read the writing on the wall about which media outlets are important, but he's right. MSM has no one to blame but themselves, from the male-dominated media fascination with Sarah Palin to the paeans to Karl Rove's intelligence. Judith Miller indeed. R.I.P.

  • anonymously on February 19, 2013 9:39 PM:

    I just saw a train wreck at redstate.org's reporting on the weekend golf trip...such foul, nasty derogatory remarks from commenters-- and insulting innuendoes.
    No doubt burning crosses on their lawns.
    Erick Erikson and the station who hired him-- CNN ---should be ashamed that's what's on his website.
    And what Erickson obviously allows to be there.

    CNN has to know.

  • smartalek on February 20, 2013 1:15 AM:

    "How dare Obama and his evil minions control their principal's media access and messaging like this!
    Do they think they're Publicans?!
    Don't they know.that Dem's can only be feckless wimps? Didn't they get the memo?"
    Lord, what a bunch of crybabies!
    I had been under the impression that Politico had comments.
    (It's very entertaining reading the Teatards' comments there, accusing Politico -- the Publican mouthpiece -- of being part of the "libtard drive-by media" conspiracy.)
    But I can't find any comments thread associated with that article.
    Anyone know if that's because there is none, or because my droid-fone isn't letting me see it?