White House tactics sidestep accountability, openness 

Obama: No questions, please.             (afp photo)

The White House today held a closed-press bill signing, which means no reporters or photographers were present, then released their own version of the event on White House video.

Why should you care?

Because if the White House truly supports a free press, then they will live up to their promises of openness and accountability, and quit substituting official press releases for news coverage. This latest tactic is of a piece -- the White House has raised the legitimate ire of news photographers by locking them out of events then releasing their own photos.

Again, who cares? Everyone should care. A free press -- horrible, messy, rude, prone to inaccuracy and bombast -- is still essential to democracy. It's one of the checks and balances in our government.

Making available only government-sanctioned (flattering, hagiographic) photos and videos of the president doesn't meet the standard -- and certainly not the one President Obama campaigned on.

The excellent Josh Gerstein at Politico, who has consistently called out the White House for its record on opennes and accountability, notes that:

Freezing out TV cameras and reporters ensures that Obama won't be asked nettlesome questions--say, about the very delicate state of health care reform on Capitol Hill.

Sometimes allowing a White House camera to capture an event gives the public a window on moments that the press didn't see, but it also gives the White House great latitude to manipulate the president's images and words as his aides see fit.

President Bush hated the "filter," too -- for some of the same reasons: Because reporter questions are pesky and their stories tend to include more than just White House talking points. It's easier to demonize the press and communicate directly with your supporters -- via photo release, White House video and YouTube.

Reportedly, networks and cable are refusing to air the White House video, in much the same spirit that wires refuse to distribute and papers decline to publish White House-issued photos. This paper wouldn't run a press release written by the White House and pretend it was journalism, and the same goes for White House-made photos and videos.


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Julie Mason

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