Helen Thomas, Chip Reid Question White House Control of Media

Is the press corps starting to tire of the Obama Administration?

At a press conference today, Helen Thomas and CBS’s Chip Reid got into it with Robert Gibbs over how the administration has been prepackaging media events.

First Reid asked why the questions for Wednesday’s town hall on healthcare were being preselected. After Gibbs tried to dodge that question a few times, Thomas became involved, saying, “We have never had that in the White House. I’m amazed that you people … call for openness and transparency.”

Thomas said that the administration was trying to control the media, and she pointed out how they coordinated questions with the Huffington Post at a press conference. Thomas is not the first journalist to question the White House’s coordination with the Huffington Post. The Washington Post’s Dana Milbank also took the White House to task for the coordination.

Wednesday’s press conference was also not the only media event that was in some way coordinated. Previous town halls have featured Obama campaign supporters and Democratic politicians lobbing softballs at Obama.

As Thomas noted, “[Obama’s] formal engagements are prepackaged.”

After Gibbs continued to dodge questions, Thomas said, “Of course you would, because you don’t have any answers.”

Before the exchange ended, Reid asked Gibbs to pass along this question to Obama: “Is he going to support a tax increase on the middle class?”

 Afterwards, Thomas told CNS News that Obama's grip on the media is even greater than that of Richard Nixon.

Nixon didn’t try to do that.  They couldn’t control [the media]. They didn’t try that.  What the hell do they think we are, puppets?  They’re supposed to stay out of our business. They are our public servants.  We pay them.  ...  I’m not saying there has never been managed news before, but this is carried to fare-thee-well--for the town halls, for the press conferences.  It’s blatant. They don’t give a damn if you know it or not. They ought to be hanging their heads in shame.

 

The full exchange between Thomas and Gibbs is below:

HELEN THOMAS: We have never had that in the White House. We have had some control [inaudible]. I’m amazed that you people who call for openness and transparency…
ROBERT GIBBS: You haven’t even heard the questions.
CHIP REID: It doesn’t matter. It’s the process.  Even if there’s a tough question, it’s a question coming from somebody who was invited and who was screened or the question was screened.
GIBBS: Chip, Chip, lets have this discussion at the conclusion of the town hall meetings.
THOMAS: No, no, no, we’re having it now.
GIBBS: Well, I’d be happy to have it now.
THOMAS: It’s a pattern.
GIBBS: Which questions do you object to at the town hall meeting?
THOMAS: It’s a pattern.
GIBBS: What’s a pattern?
THOMAS: It’s a pattern of controlling the press.
GIBBS: How so? Is there any evidence going on that I’m currently controlling the press? Poorly, I might add.
THOMAS: Your formal engagements are prepackaged.
GIBBS: How so?
REID: Well, and controlling the public.
THOMAS: How so? By calling reporters the night before to tell them they’re going to be called on. That is shocking.
GIBBS: We’ve had this discussion ad nauseum, and uh…
THOMAS: Of course you would, because you don’t have any answers.
GIBBS: Uh, well, because I didn’t know you were going to ask a question, Helen.
THOMAS: Well you should have.
GIBBS: Have you emailed your question today?
THOMAS: I don’t have to email. I can tell you right now what I want to say.
GIBBS: I don’t doubt that at all, Helen.
REID: Actually, could you pass along a question from all of us to the president: Is he going to support a tax increase on the middle class?