CBS's Bill Plante Laments Obama's Strict Grip on Media, Mourns for When 'The News Was What We Said It Was'

Longtime CBS reporter Bill Plante gave an interview to Steve Johnson at his hometown Chicago Tribune and discussed how we face a “state-run media” in recent years. It began under Bush, he suggested.

“He was neither as stupid or as disconnected as people thought, not at all. If he saw somebody leaking he didn't like it,” Plante said. “And this president doesn't like it any more than that.” He said it’s “just a lot harder” to get information now from squabbling camps inside the White House staff. So Plante made waves last year when he said Obama was undercutting the First Amendment and defining what the news was:

Q: You stirred up a little bit of controversy with a comment not too long about about the Obama administration and the lack of access that White House reporters are actually getting to the president. I think you used the phrase, "state-run media."

A: Right. Yeah, I did that on CNN. It was very deliberate. We have an issue, and we had it to a certain extent with the Bush administration. The roots of it — let me tell you a story. Mike Deaver, who was Reagan's image guy, told me at the beginning of the Reagan administration, he said, "You know, we're gonna go over your heads and speak directly to the public because the president is very good at that." I said, "O.K., fine. Go ahead." But in fact we — and the (Associated Press) — still controlled the news flow. The news was what we said it was.

But now, any administration, certainly beginning with W. Bush and now this one, has all the tools at their own disposal. I think what I was talking about that day, specifically, was something that took place just in the last year or so. The White House now posts photos taken by White House photographers on Flickr and makes them available to news outlets of events to which regular photographers are not invited. They also do video of events which are not eligible for covereage by those of us who cover the place, even the pool. These videos are released every Friday. Much of it is innocuous, but the point is, it's private. So that's how I got off into the state-run media rant — which was very deliberate. "It's the equivalent of," I think is what I said.

Not quite. He said "If they put out their own material, it's state-run media." It's true that the White House creates more of its own pre-made products and limits photographers' access. But that doesn't mean the networks have to lap it up, which they often do. (Take their swoon over the "most retweeted" photo of  Barack and Michelle hugging to mark victory in 2012.)


There was more on the Bush years, and how he was provocatively truthful about Karl Rove's political failures in 2006:

Q: I saw one other interesting situation you got yourself in. I think Karl Rove was resigning the Bush White House.

A: Oh, yeah. I shot my mouth off. He was leaving and Bush was departing the White House. It was on the South Lawn. They set up a lectern and he came to it to say goodbye to Rove and Bush talked about something to the effect of how smart Rove was and how much he'd miss him. And I think I said something to the effect of, "If he's so smart, how'd you lose Congress?"

I mean, you know, it's a provocative question, and neither one of them responded. But, you know, why not? I mean, that's our role. Some people expect us to be in their face all the time. Some people are dismayed when we say anything that they think is disrespectful. I think a provocative question isn't disrespect. And at the same time, if all you do is act as a transmission cell for what they put out, you're not doing much of a job as a reporter.

Take, for example, Major Garrett "acting as a transmission cell" on CBS on Wednesday morning -- no space for presidential critics or skeptics -- just publicity.

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