At some point, a compendium of condemnations against the Obama administration’s record of media transparency (actually, opacity) must be assembled. Notable quotations in this vein come from former New York Times executive editor Jill Abramson, who said, “It is the most secretive White House that I have ever been involved in covering”; New York Times reporter James Risen, who said, “I think Obama hates the press”; and CBS News’s Bob Schieffer, who said, “This administration exercises more control than George W. Bush’s did, and his before that.”
USA Today Washington Bureau Chief Susan Page has added a sharper edge to this set of knives. Speaking Saturday at a White House Correspondents’ Association (WHCA) seminar, Page called the current White House not only “more restrictive” but also “more dangerous” to the press than any other in history, a clear reference to the Obama administration’s leak investigations and its naming of Fox News’s James Rosen as a possible “co-conspirator” in a violation of the Espionage Act.
The WHCA convened the event both to strategize over how to open up the byways of the self-proclaimed most transparent administration in history, as well as to compare war stories on the many ways in which it is not. Peter Baker, the veteran Washington reporter from the New York Times, provided perhaps the best instance of White House-administered madness. In covering a breaking story recently, Baker received a note from a White House handler indicating that President Obama had been briefed on the matter in question.
That information came to Baker “on background.” The gist: Not from me — a meeting has occurred..
Other gripes: Correspondents took aim at large-scale “deep background” briefings — attended by up to 40-odd reporters — at which ground rules specify no names for the officials in attendance and no quotations of anything they say. ABC News Chief White House Correspondent Jonathan Karl spoke of covering the Boston Marathon bombings. As the story developed, Karl noted that the White House wasn’t giving out any information at all. So he went around it and found out that the feds were sending their high-value interrogation team to Boston. “No way I would have gotten that out of the White House,” said Karl.
Bloomberg White House correspondent Margaret Talev noted how the White House stopped giving details on the fine wines served at state dinners, an opaque measure that she exposed in this story. In pursuing the piece, said Talev, she got the runaround from White House press officials, making her “so mad at them.” Over the course of a few weeks, she had to become, in essence, a wine correspondent.