MSNBC's Andrea Mitchell Derides Obama for 'Going Overboard' With 'Pseudo' Kagan Interview

MSNBC reporter Andrea Mitchell on Wednesday actually expressed some journalistic outrage over a White House PR video disguised as an interview, deriding the administration for "crossing a number of lines when it comes to journalism." An irritated Mitchell highlighted a video on the White House website that features Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan. [Audio available here.]

Most other media outlets have ignored this story. Mitchell, however, complained to reporter Kelly O'Donnell: "But, the White House has gone overboard, I think some would suggest, in terms of the control of all of this."

Attacking the "pseudo interview," Mitchell mocked, "Doesn't this seem to you like they are really crossing a number of lines here when it comes to journalism and the proper approach to selling a justice?"

Reporter Kelly O'Donnell explained the video: "It appears like an interview. But, people who are watching it should know that it was produced and done completely by the White House." Emphasizing the point, she repeated, "[Kagan] talks about her work in law school, her love of the law. Things that are certainly glossy and friendly. But it is not an interview."

Mitchell closed by proclaiming, "[The White House video is] certainly a big issue for journalists." But, is it? Who else will cover this?

CBS's Early Show hasn't discussed this latest video, but, on August 3, 2009, touted an earlier Obama PR package. The MRC's Kyle Drennen explained:

At the top of Monday’s CBS Early Show, co-host Harry Smith touted a White House-produced video: "And your letters to the President...A behind-the-scenes look at how President Obama keeps in touch with everyday Americans." After airing the administration spin, co-host Maggie Rodriguez argued it was "all part of Obama’s promise of transparency in the people’s White House."

For more on this issue, see a blog by NewsBusters' Lachlan Markay.

A transcript of the February 12 segment, which aired at 1:02pm EDT, follows:

ANDREA MITCHELL: Elena Kagan is making the rounds on Capitol Hill, meeting with key senators. NBC's Capitol Hill correspondent Kelly O'Donnell joining us live. Big meetings today. What's the sense, the mood as she has her first meetings with key members of the Judiciary Committee and others?

KELLY O'DONNELL: Well, it's getting to know you day, Andrea. Elena Kagan is stopping at leadership. She's had a couple meetings so far. She'll be at this all day, really, until the early evening hours to meet these senators and to get a sense of what they may be wanting to know from her. And, of course, for senators it's a chance to get a sense of who she is as a person, talk about issues that may come up during this process. A lot of it is really an opportunity to just sort of spend a few minutes together in private meetings, not the big public Q and A that will come at the hearing. So, that's sort of where we are right now. From Republicans you're getting a real sense of wanting everything to slow down a bit. They are using words like "thorough" for the process they want to go through. Meaning it will be tough. It will be as intense as they can make it knowing they do not have the numbers to really derail this confirmation. And barring any big surprise, most people believe she will be able to be confirmed. But, between now and then, there's a lot that has to be done. She has a big questionnaire to fill out, which is everything about her public life and even professional life, personal life in terms of financial statements. So, a lot of that is going on now. Today is just a way to simply begin that process. And for us it's a chance to see her interacting with people who will decide if she becomes the 112th justice. Andrea?

MITCHELL: Well, off course as they go through all of this process, nominees have never submitted themselves to interviews. That's been a routine. They don't submit themselves to interviews before they go through confirmation. But, the White House has gone overboard, I think some would suggest, in terms of the control of all of this. They've posted a, a sort of, pseudo interview on their website. And it appears she is speaking in her own words, being interviewed. And it turns out that the interviewer is not a journalist, it's a White House staff member. Doesn't this seem to you like they are really crossing a number of lines here when it comes to journalism and the proper approach to selling a justice?

O'DONNELL: Well, this White House has always tried to sort of leap over reporters to a large extent and photographers as well, to communicate directly with those people who would be in the public who will click on their website and want to learn more about her. It appears like an interview. But, people who are watching it should know that it was produced and done completely by the White House. And that means it will only deal with things that they believe are favorable and contribute to the narrative of who is Elena Kagan? What's her background? She talks about her childhood. She talks about her work in law school, her love of the law. Things that are certainly glossy and friendly. But it is not an interview. And as you point out, typically justices do not do interviews. It's rare. It does happen, but it's rare. And so these behind the scenes meetings are a chance for real questions and answers. And unlike Sonia Sotomayor, who chatted a bit as she walked around the Senate last year, so far Elena Kagan has just said hello. No chance for reporters to interact. And so, that debate of how far does the White House go in its packaging is really a lively one that deals with lots of issues and certainly now with the Supreme Court nominee.

MITCHELL: It's certainly big issues for journalists.

Scott Whitlock
Scott Whitlock
Scott Whitlock is the senior news analyst for the Media Research Center and a contributing editor for NewsBusters.org