I presume that we would hear a lot more outraged commentary about this if a Republican were in the White House:
White House press-pool reports are supposed to be the news media’s eyes and ears on the president, an independent chronicle of his public activities. They are written by reporters for other reporters, who incorporate them into news articles about President Obama almost every day.
Sometimes, however, the White House plays an unseen role in shaping the story.
Journalists who cover the White House say Obama’s press aides have demanded — and received — changes in press-pool reports before the reports have been disseminated to other journalists. They say the White House has used its unusual role as the distributor of the reports as leverage to steer coverage in a more favorable direction.
The disputed episodes involve mostly trivial issues and minor matters of fact. But that the White House has become involved at all represents a troubling trend for journalists and has prompted their main representative, the White House Correspondents’ Association, to consider revising its approach to pool reporting.
[. . .]
While the overwhelming majority of pool reports pass through the White House without delay or amendment, some have been flagged by the administration’s press staff, which has demanded changes as a condition of distributing them.
When Anita Kumar of the McClatchy newspaper chain covered Obama’s appearance on “The Tonight Show” for the press pool last year, she wrote a detailed account of the taped program. Kumar thought her story would be sent to pool recipients hours before the show aired. Instead, White House press staffers objected to the length of her file, saying it violated an agreement with the program’s producers to limit advance publicity. They told Kumar to pare down her account before they would distribute it.
Kumar reluctantly complied, but the request made her uneasy. “The worry is that when you send in a pool report, the White House is reading it and approving it,” she said.
Other journalists tell similar tales about White House objections.
As the pool reporter on a presidential trip to California in mid-2012, Todd Gillman of the Dallas Morning News included a colorful scene in his pool file: Obama walking back to the press section of Air Force One bearing a dessert with a lighted candle to honor a veteran reporter who was making her final presidential trip. Gillman added the seemingly innocuous detail that Obama asked the honoree to blow out the candle and make a wish, “preferably one that had something to do with the number 270,” the minimum number of electoral college votes the president needed to win reelection.
A press aide, whom Gillman declined to identify, asserted that the details of this scene were off the record and refused to distribute Gillman’s account. Only after Gillman appealed to then-press secretary Jay Carney was the report finally sent — a day after the fact and long after reporters’ deadlines had passed.
These aren’t the workings of an independent media. These are the workings of publicity agents for the Obama administration. Obviously, the press pool arrangement needs changing; the current amount of White House editorial control over the press pool doesn’t allow news consumers to get their news unbiased and unvarnished. I’d like to think that the media itself will bring pressure to bear on the Obama administration to amend pool reporting arrangements, but I am not holding my breath.