The Barack Obama White House rewards its friends and punishes its enemies. News outlets would be wise to ensure that they don't fall into the latter category.
That is the message the Obama Campaign tried to send in 2008 when it sicced campaign activists on talk radio shows that dared to give voice to Obama's critics. It was the message the White House sent with its assault of the Fox News Channel. And now it's the message the administration is sending by reportedly threatening to bar Boston Herald reporters from full access to presidential events simply because the White House does not approve of the paper's editorial judgment.
The Herald gave former Massachusetts governor and GOP presidential contender Mitt Romney front-page op-ed space in March, bumping off a story about a presidential visit to Boston. That, the White House claimed, signaled that the paper is not "fair" or "objective" in its coverage. Hence, the Herald will be barred from pool duty on presidential visits, a White House spokesman implied.
The Herald's Hillary Chabot reported on Wednesday:
The White House Press Office has refused to give the Boston Herald full access to President Obama’s Boston fund-raiser today, in e-mails objecting to the newspaper’s front page placement of a Mitt Romney op-ed, saying pool reporters are chosen based on whether they cover the news “fairly.”
“I tend to consider the degree to which papers have demonstrated to covering the White House regularly and fairly in determining local pool reporters,” White House spokesman Matt Lehrich wrote in response to a Herald request for full access to the presidential visit.
“My point about the op-ed was not that you ran it but that it was the full front page, which excluded any coverage of the visit of a sitting US President to Boston. I think that raises a fair question about whether the paper is unbiased in its coverage of the President’s visits,” Lehrich wrote.
But Lehrich said the Herald wasn’t purposefully barred from the press pool, saying local pool duty by the Boston Globe was arranged earlier with the White House Correspondents Association. And Lehrich insisted the Herald may yet be allowed into Obama events.
“As we have in the past — including the multiple occasions on which the Herald has supplied local pool reporters — we will continue to consider the Herald for local pool duty for future visits,” Lehrich wrote.
And in light of that consideration, the Herald would be wise to avoid such unfair and biased coverage, lest it be excluded from pool duty in the future. If the Herald has not demonstrated its willingness to be "fair" to the president - by giving him space on the front page or otherwise favorable treatment - the White House will once again bestow pool duty on a competitor. That is the message that this move sends.
Thuggish treatment of the press has come to be a hallmark of this administration. Its attitude, cogently detailed by David Freddoso in his recent book "Gangster Government", has succeeded, in some cases, in swaying press coverage in the administration's favor.
Most recently, direct pressure from the administration spurred a small California newspaper to self-censor. At the White House's request, the Pleasanton Weekly removed a sentence mildly critical (and even that is arguable) of First Lady Michelle Obama.
That paper was not the first to remove passages unfriendly to the Obama White House. Last month, the Associated Press removed from its online story an embarrassing quote from President Obama, who told a town hall questioner that if gas prices are burdensomely high, perhaps he should consider "getting rid of his gas guzzler."
In 2009, the New York Times scrubbed quotes from President Obama and then-White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel boasting that the Olympics would come to Chicago in 2016 after the Olympic committee opted for Rio de Janiero instead.
Other attempts by the administration to censor or intimidate the press have been unsuccessful. For instance, immense pressure from numerous media personalities forced the White House to reverse a policy that barred journalists from effectively reporting on the Gulf oil spill last year.
The press fully bought in to Obama's line on press transparency during the 2008 campaign. Hopefully these troubling developments will encourage a more skeptical approach to the president's claims as the next campaign season gets underway.