The White House has gone to extraordinary lengths to prevent the press corps from having meaningful access to Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan. Such measures are hardly unprecedented, though they stand in stark contrast to then-candidate Barack Obama's message of openness and press transparency.
But now the White House has outdone itself in media opacity. It apparently blocked a New York Times reporter from sitting in on Kagan's brother Irving's constitutional law class at Hunter College High School. Yes, that's right. The White House is now trying to determine who can or cannot sit in a school class for teenagers.
According to watchdog group Judicial Watch, White Hosue Deputy Press Secretary Joshua Earnest intervened after hearing of Times reporter Sharon Otterman's intention to sit in on one class. "I'm definitely not comfortable with this at this point," Earnest told Kagan, according to documents it obtained from the school.
This reporter says she has permission from you and from the school to sit in on your class. I’ve articulated my concerns to the [Hunter College public relations representative] Meredith [Halpern] – who now says she agrees with me. I’ve articulated my concerns to the reporter, who’s feeling misled that we’re telling her no and she says she was told yes.
In the future, it’s important to direct all reporter inquiries to the White House. It’ll be easier for you to stay out of the middle of these conversations if you send them directly to us without responding.
Is there anything inherently wrong with the White House's intense efforts to shield Kagan from media scrutiny? Not necessarily. Spiro Agnew would probably approve. But America was promised transparency and accountability. It's still waiting.
It doesn’t seem like a big problem for a reporter from the New York Times to audit a constitutional law class taught by Kagan’s brother. Nor, of course, is it an issue if the White House wants to request that Irving Kagan allow them to handle media requests. But the patronizing tone, as well as Earnest’s quick intercession to block the Times from Kagan’s classroom, look like a White House determined to quash legitimate media review of high-profile appointees, especially to a lifetime appointment for the highest court in the nation...
Is this a scandal? It certainly doesn’t meet the standards Barack Obama himself promised of delivering the most transparent administration in history, but there are far more scandalous examples than this. This does make the White House look defensive and petty, especially considering Otterman’s education beat; it seems rather clear that Otterman was looking for human-interest background relating Kagan’s nomination to education.
As Glenn Reynolds might say: they told me if I voted for McCain the press would be prevented from checking the executive. And they were right!