Reliable Sources Panel Continues Media Whinefest Over Lack Of Access To President

This "access" whinefest by the media, which has been going on for the better part of the week, isn't legitimate and isn't about their ability to practice journalism.
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This "access" whinefest by the media, which has been going on for the better part of the week, isn't legitimate and isn't about their ability to practice journalism.

I'm sorry, but I don't buy it. Howard Kurtz and his panel this Sunday, which included David Zurawik, Julie Mason and Bill Plante come across as still being pissed off that none of them had a chance to snap a picture of President Obama playing golf with Tiger Woods.

As Kevin Drum said, it would be easier to sympathize with these national reporters if they really did ask tough, unpredictable questions of the President, but they don't. And Drum's observations on the Politico article and their complaints about the White House using social media and going around the press, can be applied to the conversation here as well:

At the same time, the reporters interviewed for this piece seem to be weirdly upset over the fact that the Obama White House uses Twitter and Facebook and releases lots of its own photos. Why is this a problem? It's 2013, guys. Why shouldn't a president communicate with the public using whatever mediums the public happens to consume? Over the past century, that's evolved from whistle-stop tours to radio to TV to Facebook, but so what? Why should reporters be unhappy about this?

Given the sorry state of our corporate media these days, I don't think they're going to get much sympathy from most of the public.

Transcript below the fold.

KURTZ: There was frustration. There was outrage. There was a virtual revolt by the White House Press Corps when President Obama hit the links with one of the most famous and controversial golfers.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS)

WOLF BLITZER, CNN: Tiger Woods, by the way, is now talking about his golf outing with the president last weekend, the one we didn't get to see.

BRET BAIER, FOX NEWS: He made some headlines by golfing with Tiger Woods, but he got headlines because the press was kept away. It was secret.

RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC: Here's a Zen question. If President Obama played a round of golf with Tiger Woods this weekend and the White House Press Corps was not permitted to cover it, did it really happen? And do you give a rat's patootie about who was allowed to cover it?

(END VIDEO CLIPS)

KURTZ: This sparked a heated debate in the media world about whether Obama has gone further than previous presidents in keeping his press corps at a distance, in all about refusing to do interviews with national newspapers, even as he makes the round on some of these softer media venues.

Joining us now: Bill Plante, senior White House correspondent for CBS News.

David Zurawik, media and television critic for "The Baltimore Sun".

And Julie Mason, host of the "Press Pool" on Sirius XM radio and a former White House correspondent for "Politico".

Bill Plante, you have been patrolling that building since Ronald Reagan. Does the White House press look self-involved and whiny, as I said earlier, complaining about this Tiger incident?

BILL PLANTE, CBS NEWS: We have gotten used to being called whiny lap dogs. I've heard it for 30 years. But this is not about a picture of Tiger Woods. This is about access to the president. And access to the president has been cut and pushed and curtailed over every administration I've covered. Here's the nub of it, Howie, this administration has the tools to reach people on their own. They don't need us as much. And to the extent that they're able to do that, they're undercutting the First Amendment, which guarantees a free press through many voices.

If they put out their own material, it's state-run media.

JULIE MASON, SIRIUS XM RADIO HOST: Yes.

KURTZ: Bill makes an interesting point. But Tiger Woods was the catalyst at least for this explosion, for this debate. And part of the reason that the White House Press Corps, no picture was put out. We never saw the two of them together. Maybe Obama administration wanted it that way given Tiger's previous scandalous past.

MASON: Yes. They didn't want a picture of the president with Tiger and, in fact, the White House was incredibly squirrelly about this trip and about this golf game.

And Bill makes a really good point. This isn't about golf. We push for access all the time behind the scenes, regular meetings with Jay Carney, asking for more access, asking for more opportunities to ask questions. When this president gives more access to the view than the reporters of "The Wall Street Journal" something has gone horribly amiss.

KURTZ: And yet, David Zurawik, I have the impression that the White House press corps is losing the battle of public opinion. There's been a lot of mockery about this.

DAVID ZURAWIK, THE BALTIMORE SUN: I think -- you know, look, Howie, that's what the Obama administration is good at. Winning the public opinion battle and that's where they're playing this game.

But I absolutely agree. Look, this is our job, this is our job to push for it and it's the job of critics like myself to reinforce that push, not back off and say, oh, my readers don't care or they love Obama, whatever.

No, this is a major issue. And, by the way, that picture of the reporters at the gate of that gated country club, you know, it was a "Golf Digest" reporter, right, who was in there, who tweeted as the Washington press corps was kept away. A "Golf Digest" reporter --

KURTZ: I think he got the information.

But let me turn back to Bill Plante, you talk about state-run media, and I can see why it's very frustrating. The White House Correspondent, the organization is spending major dollars to follow the president around the world, you rarely get near him, he's not doing interviews with the beat reporters, and yet, you say, they don't need us. Meaning that they have the digital tools now to bypass people like you? PLANTE: Sure. The purpose of the press pool I thought to the president was originally to make sure that anything happened, they were there to tell the story. Or if anything was to be transmitted, we were able to do it.

KURTZ: And now?

PLANTE: Eisenhower had a heart attack at a golf vacation in Denver. There were assassination attempt on President Kennedy, how did we find out? No satellites then. A wire service reporter picked up the phone ask called.

There were two assassination attempts on President Ford.

That's what the press pool is for. Not about golf games.

KURTZ: But, of course, most of the time, nothing happens.

PLANTE: Exactly.

KURTZ: And then the press is left cooling its collective heels.

PLANTE: Sure.

KURTZ: But, you know, talk about digital tools here. President Obama recently did a -- what's called a Google hang out, which means that multiple people can come online and ask him questions. Questions from every citizen.

Vice President Biden did a Facebook town hall. Presidents use Facebook, as well.

So, now, Josh Earnest, the White House spokesman, told me that is not a substitute for talking to the White House Press Corps, but sometimes it can look that way.

MASON: It absolutely looks that way. And, of course, President Obama is not the first one. President Bush called it the filter, right, Bill? And they would find ways to go around the press.

The problem is --

KURTZ: Bill Clinton went on "Larry King" and MTV and we complained that he was circumventing the mainstream media.

MASON: Right. But the problem is now that Rachel Maddow and others who want to say this is no big deal, this is a whining press corps, they are enabling the next guy to be even worse by not caring.

KURTZ: And did Rachel Maddow and her MSNBC colleagues get a private audience with the president when he was signing his economic plans?

MASON: Exactly. Exactly right.

ZURAWIK: Exactly. I mean, that's outrageous that statement from her, Howie. I just think that is outrageous. (CROSSTALK)

ZURAWIK: No one cares a rat's patootie. Yes, we do care a rat's patootie, we care about 10 rats patootie about this.

KURTZ: What she was -- she was putting it in the form of a question. Should the public care if -- whether or not journalists have access to some of these more routine events?

Bill, you're making the point, it's not just a golf game, he could fall and break his leg or whatever. But at the same time, I think to a lot of folks, let's be honest here, it looks like self-interested pleading on the part of the White House press corps.

PLANTE: That's why it's important to point out that this is not as much about us as it is about what the public gets to know and who tells them. The White House can tell them, but do you always trust the White House or do you want a somewhat disinterested outside view? Hello?

ZURAWIK: Howie, you know, this week we had a great example of the sequestration and the White House bringing in out of town reporters.

KURTZ: I was going to ask you about. These are the automatic budget cuts.

ZURAWIK: They brought in a --

KURTZ: They brought in like eight different local reporters from stations around the country. And so, the White House will say, what's wrong with that? He's accessible. These are journalists. Of course, they're not national correspondents, but --

ZURAWIK: Howie, I actually watched one of them. WJZ -- and this was a CBS owned and operated station. This is not some dinky little station.

Opens with the top anchor out on the White House lawn and he says, more than 12,000 people in Maryland could lose their jobs, education could lose 55 million this year, if this happens.

Meanwhile, the president and his senior staff are working around the clock warning Congress about how bad this could be. Then, you cut to President Obama who said, you people in Maryland don't have to lose your jobs if Congress would just do its job.

No, no context. None of the great history of, hey, who owns sequestration? Who came up with this idea in the first place? None of that.

It was like an Obama commercial. It was like a campaign commercial, I swear.

The reporter did no context, no background and just took the White House line and fed it to Baltimore viewers.

MASON: That's what the White House is counting on.

(CROSSTALK)

MASON: Circumventing the White House press corps.

KURTZ: Isn't there a little bit of elitism here to suggest -- and you can speak to this, Bill -- you know, local reporters don't ask good questions or don't have the factual knowledge to follow up? Now, it is true that those of you at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue every day, you know what the president said a year ago, two years ago, you can follow up.

But I fear we're denigrating journalists who work in Washington.

PLANTE: Look, I'm not denigrating them at all. I'm glad --

KURTZ: He did.

(LAUGHTER)

PLANTE: No, I am glad they have a chance to talk to the president. They are going to ask questions that are centered on their markets, on their local issues.

KURTZ: That's their job.

PLANTE: The president will take advantage of that to make his point straight away, as he did in David's example.

MASON: It should be both. It shouldn't be one or the other. It should be both.

KURTZ: After the White House got hammered coming out of the Tiger Woods incident, what happened is that the president held an off-the- record meeting with some of the White House beat reporters, I don't know whether you were there. But there's always this question, which is, I can understand why you want to see a president with his guard down, we have to watch every word.

But what benefit do readers and viewers get out of these off-the- record meetings?

PLANTE: You can inform your own with what learned in sessions like that. You can't quote the president. You can't even say you were there. But you can say that the understanding around the White House is X, Y, and Z.

KURTZ: So, right now, you can't even tell me if you were there?

PLANTE: I'm not going to say.

KURTZ: Non-denial denial.

MASON: But, Howie, on Friday, the president took a question in the Oval as a direct result of this contretemps over golf.

KURTZ: You think so?

MASON: Yes, he took a question from a reporter in the Oval Office. No one can remember the last time he did that. So, there was a direct benefit from this dust up.

KURTZ: In this dust up, President Obama also this week went on three radio shows hosted by African-Americans. One of them was Al Sharpton.

Do you think he basically is seeking out friendly forums and makes it look like he's out there but he's not really getting grilled?

MASON: Yes, absolutely.

ZURAWIK: That's his game.

MASON: And then the White House says, look at all these interviews we're doing. But they're not sitting down with "The New York Times" or "The Washington Post" or any of the people who cover him all the time and would ask more critical questions.

KURTZ: Newspapers are really getting stiffed with this.

ZURAWIK: Newspapers are really getting stiffed. And, really, again, it's what Bill said. The people with the expertise and the background are not being allowed to talk to him. I'm not denigrating anyone.

But, look, if you're an 11:00 anchor in a local market, you don't know as much about the administration than Bill Plante does, OK?

KURTZ: I asked this question on my Twitter feed. Should the White House press complain about lack of access after Tiger? They put up. Got those graphics, some of the responses. Basically White House press got hammered.

"Who cares about that? I'd like the press to make the White House and their minions tell the truth about the sequester."

"Since the White House press is not doing their job with regards to questioning Obama, they have no room to complain."

"No. Media acts like petulant children. What exactly is the news value of a golf game again?"

I'll let you have a brief response, Bill Plante.

PLANTE: It's not about the golf game. Again, it's about --

(CROSSTALK)

KURTZ: And you're not being petulant?

PLANTE: No, I hope not.

KURTZ: But you are fighting for what you see is an important principle that you say is being eroded with every successful administration.

PLANTE: Yes. But to -- because to the extent that the White House can broadcast its own news in various media and we don't have the access to the same news, the public is being ill-served. The First Amendment guarantees a multiplicity of voices.

KURTZ: Bill Plante, Julie Mason, thanks for stopping by. David Zurawik, stick around.

When we come back, David Axelrod and Robert Gibbs sign on at MSNBC. Is it becoming the Obama defense network?

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