Note: This column appeared in The Times (of Northwest Indiana) on October 15, 2009.
President Barack Obama has spent an awful lot of time harping on the press corps and the 24-hour news cycle when he speaks, but he forgets that they live in a mutually beneficial world where each would find existence without the other to be rather lonely.
The relationship between the White House and the White House press corps has always been contentious, but never more so until the day Mike McCurry, then press secretary to President Bill Clinton, allowed cameras to tape the entire daily briefing live for the first time. The daily lunchtime ritual became the perfect platform for the occasional showboating and lobbing of rhetorical harpoons at each other for the benefit of the home audience.
Among the tension, though, there has always been a mutual understanding that the relationship is one of necessity. The White House needs the press to inform the public about their policies, and the press need the White House to fill airtime and column inches.
Lately though, the tension has become almost hostile.
There were certainly times when the press wasn’t happy with us in the Bush White House, whether it was an issue of access or ground rules for a briefing preventing the press from naming a particular official by name. But these days there seems to be an all-out war against the press being waged by the current occupants of the White House.
Anita Dunn, communications director at the White House, sat down over the weekend for an interview with CNN’s Howard Kurtz where she explained that Fox News Channel, in her opinion, was a “wing of the Republican Party” providing research and messaging capabilities for half of the two-party system. It would be laughable if the quote was made up, but it’s not.
I can’t remember a time when we so blatantly attacked MSNBC, which certainly had a leftward tilt to its coverage and took considerable time every day to let their feelings be known about the work of President Bush. And when we did voice our concerns, it was in the form of a letter from Ed Gillespie to NBC News regarding the inappropriate editing of an interview correspondent Richard Engel did with the president instead of a direct slam at the entire network.
What does the White House actually gain by openly announcing their displeasure for a particular network like this? There are no brownie points to be awarded unless it’s a way of riling up the base to support health care reform and other agenda items.
The bigger concern I have is how this will affect the overall dynamics of the White House-Press Corps relationship. Forget the inherent tension for a moment. Could this cause even more contentious behavior on the part of both sides and allow a visible ideological split to form within the briefing room?
I lost my crystal ball, so we’ll have to wait and see.