President Obama is giving interviews to eight local TV news reporters to highlight the effect of the sequester on their cities, again snubbing the poor White House correspondents who are routinely denied access to the president, as Politico vividly chronicled earlier this week. And what are these lucky local news reporters doing with their precious access? Tweeting about Bo, the dog.
Yunji de Nies, of the ABC affiliate in Honolulu, tweeted Tuesday, "Look who we found! It's Bo!! #kitvdc @ The White House." She linked to the photo at right of the majestic pup. (CBS News' Mark Knoller, one of the unhappy White House reporters who spoke to Politico, replied, "No quoting of Bo. He's off-the-record only. Have a good interview.") Dan Ashley, reporter for the San Francisco ABC affiliate, tweeted his meeting with Bo: "Here I am with #Bo the First Dog! Got to say hello on the #WhiteHouse South Lawn." He also posted a photo of himself in the splendor of the golden East Room.
Isn't this just terrible? Those reporters who actually have the chance to ask Obama tough questions are so obviously awed by the grandeur of the White House and the status that comes with it! Except, to be fair, we should look at what the White House press corps does with its access. The reporters' outcry came when they were not allowed to interview Obama while he was golfing with Tiger Woods. "It's not about golf," White House Correspondents Association president Ed Henry told Politico's Dylan Byers. It's about a picture of a golf game! As Henry said just a couple sentences earlier: "All we're asking for is a brief exception, quick access, a quick photo-op on the 18th green."
Politico's Jim VandeHei and Mike Allen reported, "The president has shut down interviews with many of the White House reporters who know the most and ask the toughest questions." In not giving an interview to major newspaper reporters in years, Obama is avoiding "the reporters who are often most likely to ask tough, unpredictable questions." But as Slate's Dave Weigel pointed out, the White House press corps doesn't always ask great questions. Most questions, Wiegel writes, fit into three categories: "How will you pass this?" "How do you respond to this?" and "Remember when you said this?" Allen asked George W. Bush about baseball and American Idol in 2008.
Even the reporter known for having the most presidential access of anyone, Bob Woodward, sometimes has trouble turning that access into timely reportage. The New York Times topic page for Bob Woodward notes that he wrote four books about Bush's presidency, and "The first of those books wrote about Mr. Bush in glowing terms; the last treated him savagely. Critics say Mr. Woodward's works reflect his perceptions of who's on top at a given moment more than any deep analysis." The "critics" the anonymous author refers to is Jill Abramson, who is now executive editor of the Times. In a September 2008 review of War Within, Abramson made this exact critique, noting, "Cynics will say that Woodward waited until the last book to fully criticize the president and his closest advisers because he no longer needs access to them."