It’s been nearly a week but it seems that someone in the press finally noticed the lack of American media traveling with Mrs. Obama across China. The Washington Post’s Krissah Thompson, who just yesterday gushed over the first lady’s trip, finally acknowledged in a March 26 piece that American media were shut out from the first lady's press pool.
Despite Thompson’s admission, the Post buried the details on A7 with the awkward title that “In China, first lady lauds free press amid questions about access.” The Post reported recognized that “coverage of the trip has been made more difficult by tight restrictions on reporters and photographers, who have been kept far away from many events and were not allowed to accompany the first lady, her mother and her two daughters on their flight last week from the United States.”
As the piece continued, Thompson conceded that:
Obama has had only one written question-and-answer session with a Chinese-based independent news outlet. The constraints, including an absence of interviews by U.S. news reporters, have prompted objections from some journalists and conservative commentators, who see a contrast between Obama’s remarks here in favor of a free press and the restrictive nature of her travels.
The criticism comes during a trip that has turned out to be, in some respects, more substantive than expected. Obama extolled the virtues of journalistic freedom at Peking University in Beijing, discussed education policy with teachers at the U.S. Embassy and, on Tuesday, invoked the importance of the struggle for civil rights at a high school here in Chengdu. She is also slated to visit with members of the Tibetan community here on Tuesday.
Thompson then lamented how “The first lady has maintained a remote relationship with the news media in recent years, holding press events but granting few interviews outside entertainment and talk-show outlets. Her staff has focused on building her social-media presence in a bid to reach young people, aides said, and during the China trip has granted interviews to media outlets focused on children.”
While Mrs. Obama had no official press pool traveling on her plane, Thompson did note that:
In addition to Beijing-based correspondents for U.S. news organizations, two news outlets, including The Washington Post, sent reporters from Washington to China to cover her visit, which was billed as a goodwill tour focused on education. The White House and the U.S. Embassy arranged for reporters to travel in the first lady’s motorcade on several occasions to cover events and set up vans and drivers for other events. These services were billed to the news organizations.
While the Post should be commended for noticing the irony of Mrs. Obama speaking about the need for freedom of press while having limited access herself for American media, this story came only after Ms. Thompson provided glowing coverage of the first lady’s visit.