Team Obama and the Press Corps: It Ain’t Tricking If You Got It

Steve Clemons makes an observation about the White House press corps in the age of Obama, quoting a WH correspondent:

The White House is working hard to secure deals that yield fluffy, feel good commentary about the Obama White House. One American White House reporter used colorful terms to describe the arrangement. The reporter said, “They want ‘blow jobs’ first [in the press sense]. Then you have to be on good behavior for a bit or be willing to deal, and then you get access.”

The point he’s making really concerns White House reporters writing access-dependent insider books. But really, isn’t the more salient focus the effect of access on daily/hourly/constant journalism? It’s always the little compromises you make that are the most damaging, because they routinize you for compromise, until it gets to the point that you end up like a dog that’s been beat too much/ ’til you spend half your life just covering up.

Put it another way: can you really blame the White House communications team for wanting the blowjobs up front? They know they can get them. If there wasn’t a market for access, the comm staff could never set the prices. This is about demand. If you set up a journalistic system that focused on structural interactions as an explanatory force for politics and policy, then the sort of soap-opera-y insider pieces that depend on access would diminish — I’m not naive enough to think they’d disappear, but they’d diminish — and accordingly the marketplace for access compromises would shift in a manner more conducive to journalistic integrity.

Alternatively, the irrelevance of the White House press corps might hasten that day. The communications tools available to a White House staff to get its message out have compounded exponentially over the past decade, as everyone knows. Since the White House press corps performs more stenography than criticism and is largely dependent on being fed from the podium, then perhaps the day will come when more people would rather get, say, the president’s big speech on Whatever from an iPhone app than from a talking head. That would in turn force the White House press corps to ask itself how it adds value in that news-environment, and perhaps the answer would be “By performing thorough and penetrating journalism.”

(There is of course pageantry out at the agencies’ press corps, but not quite like the kind seized upon by the White House press folks.)

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Spencer Ackerman

Spencer Ackerman