There should be an immediate and significant change in the way participants in White House press conferences are chosen.
It’s time an unfortunate truth was faced: the White House Press Corps has done a poor job of covering the current Chief Executive. On the other hand, a number of non-traditional news outlets have discussed how the Obama Administration has been unacceptably evasive and non responsive to legitimate, timely and important questions.
The latest is a Yahoo! News analysis. It reports that Press Secretary Jay Carney has dodged questions over 9,000 times. But even when not dealing with outright stonewalling, there is a noticeable lack of follow-up questions to Carney’s uninformative responses.
In the face of the Administration’s cavalier disregard for the vital role played by journalists in keeping the American people informed, the White House press corps has been as tame as house cats. Indeed, it was not until the truth came out that Associated Press reporters were being bugged that anything resembling a tough line of questioning was observable at what passes for press briefings. Considering the seriousness of the charge, even the questions about that were quite tame.
What does get a rise out of these elite news folks? Mother Jones discussed how angry they became when they were kept away from the President’s golf game with Tiger Woods.
The criticism from alternative news media has become withering. Politico notes that the President has become “a master at limiting, shaping, and manipulating media coverage…” Townhall notes that the President has made “glaringly misleading or false claims” without serious challenge by the White House Press Corps. Slate openly asks, “Who needs the White House Press Corps?” Laura Ingraham directly blames a flaccid White House Press Corps for failing to follow up on the White House’s blatantly false statements about the events surrounding the murder of America’s ambassador to Libya. And The Week poses the key question, “Is it time to disband the White House Press Corps?
Even those few White House correspondents inclined to be objective-and even rarer, opposed-to the President’s policies appear to be more protective of their privileged status than in pursuing hard questions of an Administration mired in foreign and domestic policy missteps virtually since the first day of its first term. Incidents such as the refusal to prosecute voter intimidation, the fast and furious issue, the assault on Tea Party groups, the Benghazi cover-up, the inability to assist the nation in recovering from the Great Recession, the failed reset with Russia, and a number of other problems that would have prompted aggressive questioning of prior Administrations by the White House Press Corps have not been pursued diligently.
There is a way to deal with this diminished professionalism. It’s time that the current system of responding mainly to the representatives of elite news media was tossed, and a more representative and modern procedure enacted in its placed. The system of giving priority to Washington-based journalists is archaic in an era of jet travel and instant media. It also fosters an incestuous, “inside the beltway” mentality where no one really wants to rock the boat for folks they may depend on for access, or may socialize with at the next fashionable cocktail party. It should not pass without notice that Jay Carney is married to Claire Shipman, a senior correspondent for ABC.
Allowing reporters from both regional traditional media-for example, newspapers other than the Washington Post or the New York Times, and those from what has now become the more courageous and ubiquitous news provider, internet news sources, to play a much larger roll would be a great start. Allowing the same handful of reporters from the same handful of outlets to monopolize press briefings has not served the public well.
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