Updated: April 9, 2013 11:35AM
It may go down as the straw that broke the camel’s back of the mainstream media’s obsequious, uncritical coverage of President Barack Obama: The White House’s decision to deny reporters and photographers even a peep at Obama playing golf with Tiger Woods last month in Florida.
It was a trivial event and the press may have come off as too petulant in its protest. After all, the only coverage would have been a feel-good moment of sports camaraderie between two of America’s most appealing success stories (albeit in Woods’ case marred by his marital infidelities).
But small things matter, and the snub crystallized years of frustration among reporters with a president most of them voted for but who holds them at arms length if not in contempt. What’s more, it came only a few weeks after what every reasonable observer agreed was a huge embarrassment for the profession — Steve Kroft’s fawning, toadying interview with Obama and outgoing Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on CBS’s “60 Minutes,” once the network’s badge of honor for hard-hitting questions and investigative reporting.
Next came the dustup over claims by Watergate-famed reporter Bob Woodward — and then other journalists — of White House overkill in pushback over stories it didn’t like.
The day after the golf brouhaha, Politico, the website devoted to politics, published an article headlined “Obama, the puppet master.” It laid out chapter and verse the complaints: Obama ignores the New York Times in favor of friendly venues with softball questions like ABC’s “The View.” He shuns interviews with the most knowledgeable reporters, the White House press corps, to do sessions with local TV stations or network anchors grateful to bask in his glory. “The way the president’s availability to the press has shrunk in the last two years is a disgrace,” ABC News White House reporter Ann Compton told Politico.
Maybe it was a coincidence, but critical, even stinging coverage of the White House started surfacing days later. The Times reported that Organizing for Action, the latest incarnation of Obama’s campaign apparatus now devoted to promoting his agenda, was soliciting big bucks — up to half a million dollars — and offering the biggest donors face-time with Obama. It evoked the worst images of selling access to the president, much like President Bill Clinton’s offer of a night in the Lincoln bedroom to deep-pocket supporters.
The Washington Post exposed the sky-is-falling exaggerations of the White House about the fallout from the sequester spending cuts. For example, it found Education Secretary Arne Duncan advancing the false claim that West Virginia teachers were getting pink slips.
Most damaging, the Post reported Obama’s top goal wasn’t getting something done in Washington, but scoring a political victory — winning Democratic control of the House in 2012 so that he would hold all the levers of power to advance his left-wing policies.
The administration isn’t used to this kind of coverage. Again maybe it was coincidence, but Obama suddenly starting taking a question or two from reporters at White House events. More significantly, he hosted meetings with Senate and House Republicans in a show of outreach to get action on policy issues like fiscal reform and immigration.
The nation profits when the news media does its job of unfettered reporting. Let’s hope this is a trend for the future, and not just a lapse.
A hero-worshiping press does the nation and, in the long run, a president no good by not putting his work under a microscope.