NPR White House Reporter Celebrated How Obama's Avoiding The Media 'Filter'

If President Obama were following his 2012 media strategy, his latest appearance with Jay Leno on the Tonight show would have been his last "press conference." But since he was going on vacation, he decided to lower himself to a few questions from the White House press corps.

He did not call on NPR's Ari Shapiro on Friday -- but on Thursday's Morning Edition, Shapiro offered a typically one-sided story almost celebrating how in today's media, "the White House can avoid the [media] filter altogether." He can show up on Leno, or on the real-estate website Zillow, anywhere no one's asking about a "phony scandal" or two:


SHAPIRO: Audiences are fragmented. A generation ago, most of the nation sat down in the evening to watch one of three network TV news shows. There's no longer anything like that nightly gathering of the American people in their living rooms. That's a challenge for the White House, but it's also an opportunity. President Bush used to dismissively refer to the White House Press Corps as the filter. Now the White House can avoid the filter altogether.

ANNOUNCER: Welcome to the West Wing Week, your guide to everything that's happening at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue and beyond. This week...

SHAPIRO: Every White House does press releases, but this administration produces weekly videos, behind-the-scenes photos and countless other channels of communication, almost like a state-run news service. Arun Chaudhary used to be President Obama's White House videographer.

ARUN CHAUDHARY: Before me, there was never a personal videographer to a president, or somebody who would capture the sort of off-the-cuff backstage moments, kind of like the White House photographer has done since the '60s.

SHAPIRO: And before him, there was never a way for the White House to share that video directly with the world. Chaudhary says Obama may have changed political communication by reaching out to supporters directly, but they were just following the lead of the private sector.

CHAUDHARY: Anyone who can get their point of view out unfiltered is going to try to do that because it's their point of view. And, you know, not only are they entitled to it, but they're entitled to tell their story. And I think people are taking advantage of that more and more.

SHAPIRO: So here's where things stand today: the legacy media, as they're called, are scrambling to stay in the game. President Obama has not done an interview with the Washington Post, for example, in the last four years. A week ago, reporters at the Post watched the president give an interview to Amazon.com. And this week, they found out that the owner of Amazon, Jeff Bezos, is about to be the new owner of their paper.

But don't reporters outside NPR find this objectionable? Shapiro didn't go looking for critics. Instead, he found a professor in the nation's capital to say that Obama's avoidance of the press is squarely in the "wisdom of necessity," utterly natural and no cause for complaint:

SHAPIRO: [Obama’s] used Google, Twitter, Facebook and more. And those are not even news organizations. Steven Livingston calls them information-conveying mechanisms. He's a professor of media and public affairs at George Washington University.

STEVEN LIVINGSTON: Today, the president and his advisors have to think through who the audience is they are trying to reach, and what is the most likely outlet that would accomplished that.

SHAPIRO: Do you think, on the whole, this is a wise strategy?

LIVINGSTON: It's a necessary strategy. The wisdom is found in the necessity of it.

Shapiro didn’t let his readers know that Professor Livingston wrote an anti-Bush book titled “When the Press Fails: Political Power and the News Media from Iraq to Katrina,” a book which complained about the media being too cooperative with President Bush: 

A sobering look at the intimate relationship between political power and the news media, When the Press Fails argues the dependence of reporters on official sources disastrously thwarts coverage of dissenting voices from outside the Beltway.

The result is both an indictment of official spin and an urgent call to action that questions why the mainstream press failed to challenge the Bush administration’s arguments for an invasion of Iraq or to illuminate administration policies underlying the Abu Ghraib controversy. Drawing on revealing interviews with Washington insiders and analysis of content from major news outlets, the authors illustrate the media’s unilateral surrender to White House spin whenever oppositional voices elsewhere in government fall silent.

Actually, most of his stories suggest this should be on Ari Shapiro’s business card: “unilateral surrender to White House spin.”

Tim Graham
Tim Graham
Tim Graham is Executive Editor of NewsBusters and is the Media Research Center’s Director of Media Analysis