The Politico, America's worst media outlet, has a big story today about what's wrong with the White House's relationship with the political media, such as The Politico. According to Jim VandeHei and Mike Allen, President Obama disdains, freezes out, and circumvents the representatives of the Fourth Estate, including reporters from The Politico, rather than opening himself up to their serious questions. "This is an arguably dangerous development," The Politico explains.
(Here we pause to invoke the old and useful rule, promulgated by the columnist Alex Beam, that "arguably" is a synonym for "not.)
Things are very bad (dangerously bad!) between the White House and the press corps, according to The Politico:
The president's staff often finds Washington reporters whiny, needy and too enamored with trivial matters or their own self-importance.
Their own self-importance? Explain more!
The president has not granted an interview to print reporters at The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, POLITICO and others in years. These are the reporters who are often most likely to ask tough, unpredictable questions.
The rubric under which Allen and VandeHei write this for The Politico is "Behind the Curtain." This is apparently a reference to the motion picture The Wizard of Oz, in which a thundering, all-knowing sorcerous talking head turns out to be projected by a pallid, agitated little man jabbering bullshit into a loudspeaker. This reference is the most astute thing about The Politico, though almost certainly not in the way that The Politico intends.
What makes today's exercise an archetypical story from The Politico is that the premise could be turned 180 degrees and it would be no less useful a line of attack or complaint. "He gives interviews not for our benefit, but to achieve his objective," Mark Knoller of CBS says. And if the president were failing to control his media message to achieve his objectives, letting the press push him around, The Politico would be on that story too—in precisely the same tone as this one. Bad president!
And so, correspondingly, any piece of evidence can serve the argument. As proof that the Obama White House is stonewalling the press, The Politico points to the fact that it has been releasing too much information: There has been "extensive government creation of content (photos of the president, videos of White House officials, blog posts written by Obama aides), which can then be instantly released to the masses through social media"; the administration has staged "nearly two dozen" Friday releases of documents.
"What you guys call a document dump, we call transparency," the White House's [deputy press secretary Josh] Earnest shot back.
The White House is clearly taunting The Politico. The uninitiated might wonder why The Politico could not have its reporters read the documents over the weekend, to publish a thoroughly informed story on Monday or Tuesday. But as Washington insiders know, each Friday afternoon, a crew from Albritton Communications, The Politico's owner, arrives at the office to wipe all the servers and administer lethal injections to the staff. The remains are carted off to a rendering plant, and on Monday, a new vat-grown Mike Allen, John F. Harris, and Jim VandeHei are activated and given an all-new staff, innocent of all precedent or history.
At least, that would explain the summing-up section of today's piece, in which Allen and VandeHei tell about an episode that epitomizes the White House's cruel and dysfunctional relationship with the press. It is the crisis that occurred 30 years ago, or a couple of weeks ago, in which the Obama administration forced Washington reporters to drop everything and write stories about the fact that the president sometimes shoots clay pigeons for recreation. The White House, in its relentless circumvention of normal healthy media channels, unilaterally released a "six-month old photo" of the president firing a shotgun.
[Senior adviser Dan] Pfeiffer and White House press secretary Jay Carney tweeted a link to the photo, with Pfeiffer writing that it was "[f]or all the skeeters" (doubters, or "skeet birthers"). Longtime adviser David Plouffe then taunted critics on Twitter: "Attn skeet birthers. Make our day - let the photoshop conspiracies begin!" Plouffe soon followed up with: "Day made. The skeet birthers are out in full force in response to POTUS pic. Makes for most excellent, delusional reading."
The controversy started with an interview co-conducted by Chris Hughes, a former Obama supporter and now publisher of The New Republic. The government created the content (the photo), released it on its terms (Twitter) and then used Twitter again to stoke stories about conservatives who didn't believe Obama ever shot a gun in the first place.
Yup, that is exactly how the skeet-shooting controversy started, right? The president made a true, if self-promoting, statement in a friendly interview. Then something something something. Then the White House released a photo supporting the president's claim, as a way "to stoke stories about conservatives."
Why did the White House insist on putting out a photo about something as trivial as the president's use of the outdoor recreational facilities at Camp David? What compelled them to push this story on the public?
White House mum on skeet-shooting challenge. So pace Allen and VandeHei, The Politico was able to raise the questions it cared about with this administration. And the administration gave The Politico exactly what it was asking for.
Image by Jim Cooke, Photo via Getty