During the presidential campaign, Barack Obama was supposed to have received overwhelmingly positive coverage by the news media. But already the White House press corps is mad at him. Why? Media commentator Paul Janensch explains.
We’re told that every president enjoys a honeymoon with the White House press corps. The journalists go easy on the newly inaugurated chief executive during a breaking-in period. Well, the honeymoon with Barack Obama sure didn’t last very long. Barely a day. The issue is access. The press corps demands it. The office of the White House press secretary cannot always grant it. But last week it seemed to make a rookie mistake with the handling of Obama’s second swearing-in. . The do-over was deemed necessary because the first time Chief Justice John Roberts fumbled the wording of the oath of office and, therefore, so did Obama. The press pool for the second swearing-in was made up of four reporters, but no news cameras were allowed – not for still photographs and not for video. Instead an official White House photographer took pictures. The press corps howled. “We have a tradition of covering the president,” Bill Plainte of CBS told White House press secretary Robert Gibbs. The three major news services – the Associated Press, Reuters and Agence France Presse -- refused to move the images from the White House photographer because they were taken by a White House photographer, not a news professional.
Meanwhile, hardly noticed was the issuing of a memorandum by the new president instructing the executive branch to honor the letter and the spirit of the Freedom of Information Act. The Bush administration assured the bureaucrats that they would be defended in court if they were sued for refusing to release public documents and had what they thought was a good reason. The Obama memo said public information should be made public and that when in doubt openness should prevail. Now THAT’S access! It was stupid of the White House press secretary’s office to bar news cameras from the second swearing-in. They should have been included in the pool. But the White House press corps was wrong to devote so little attention to the president’s memo calling for full and ungrudging compliance with the Freedom of Information Act. The honeymoon may be over, but the presidency and the White House press corps can still have a productive and mutually respectful relationship.
Media commentator Paul Janensch is a former newspaper editor who teaches journalism at Quinnipiac University in Hamden, Connecticut.