The Big Think

July 9, 2009

Who Do They Work For?

Filed under: Politics — jasony @ 12:04 pm

Reporters from roughly 30 television networks, newspapers, magazines, and web sites celebrated the Fourth of July with Barack Obama at the White House last weekend. Why didn’t you know that? Because they were sworn to secrecy…These are the same people who just a week ago were whining in the press briefing about Obama’s malicious and dastardly attempts to “control the press.”

There is a cosmic irony at work here: The party was “closed press.” It was covered, under onerous restrictions, by a pool reporter—the Baltimore Sun’s Paul West. West was ushered in by White House staffers for a mere 40 minutes, so he could record the president’s remarks. He was kept in a pen so that he wouldn’t run amok and interview someone. He shouted questions at Obama as he worked the rope line, which the president ignored. Then he was taken away. West wrote up his blindered account of the party and then e-mailed it to the White House press corps, many of whom were actually at the party, outside of the pen, hanging out with all the other guests. And then, because they had temporarily signed away the right to do their jobs in exchange for facetime with staffers, a few cold Stoudt’s American Pale Ales, and some corn on the cob, their news organizations picked up that pool report and used it to tell their readers what happened at the party. This is how the press covers the White House.

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Look, I’m not going to go all screamy-politikey here, but if the White House Press Corps is gong to raise a stink when the Administration has closed meetings with corporate big shots, why then is it okay when they do it? We’ve just spent the last eight years hearing about how it’s the duty of the press to hold the politicians accountable for their actions. Holding off-the-record closed meetings in exactly the same way that they have criticized others of doing is… is… I don’t even have words, really.

I want to know that the press is doing the work of monitoring the politicians and making sure that they really are doing the people’s business-and shining the sterilizing light of publicity when they aren’t. This doesn’t exactly give me faith that they’re keeping their solemn responsibility. Are they watchdogs or lapdogs? Their behavior leads to some pretty damning conclusions.

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