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White House Reporters Frustrated With Obama Administration

President Obama speaks to reporters last summer. Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images.

The Morning Line

Is it bad for democracy when a president answers impromptu questions from the press 107 times after a photo opportunity, compared with his predecessor’s 355? Or that he’s more likely to dish with the ladies of “The View” than he is to sit down with the New York Times?

These are the questions reporters are raising about President Obama’s White House as he enters a second term having ruffled feathers in the Fourth Estate. It’s a question of reporter access, but also of media control. It’s a story that gets Washington in a lather, but also gets at the way an administration conducts itself.

Politico’s Mike Allen and Jim Vandehei write in a four-page behind-the-curtain piece Tuesday that “the balance of power between the White House and press has tipped unmistakably toward the government.”

They quote a number of White House reporters, including the Times’ Peter Baker and CBS News’ Mark Knoller, who are critical of their lack of access to Mr. Obama and are amazed at the amount of content produced by the administration’s media specialists.

Politico notes the “softball” interviews Mr. Obama gives to local and national TV anchors rather than White House beat reporters; the copious official administration photos compared to scant opportunities for photojournalists; weekend document releases that take advantage of slow news cycles; and the White House press team’s method of using Twitter and social media to control the release of information.

“This administration loves to boast about how transparent they are, but they’re transparent about things they want to be transparent about. He gives interviews not for our benefit, but to achieve his objective,” Knoller said.

(For the record, the NewsHour has not had an interview with Mr. Obama since 2009. You can watch that here.)

The few responses in the story from a White House communications employee speak to how the administration views itself as a media organization, one that’s almost in competition with the collective Fourth Estate.

“There’s no question that technology has significantly altered the playing field of competitive journalism,” principal deputy White House press secretary Josh Earnest told Politico. “Our ongoing challenge is to engage media outlets with audiences large and small.”

The White House likes to point out that more “real people” are able to reach out to Mr. Obama, who has answered questions in IAmA chats on Reddit and joined Vice President Biden in Google Hangouts, where people actually ask followup questions.

We noted Monday what began this latest outcry: a golf outing between Mr. Obama and Tiger Woods. And sure, this easily sounds like whining from an industry about as popular as Congress. But some reporters argue that for an administration that talks about its historic transparency, shallow efforts to allow more technological access to voters do not equal an openness with the Fourth Estate.

Dylan Byers, also of Politico, had his own story Monday about Mr. Obama’s golf trip and the White House Press Corps. He quoted Ed Henry, White House Correspondents Association president, calling for transparency after the press corps felt “extreme frustration” for not having access to the exclusive Florida golf club where the president played with Woods. Byers reports that on the ride home, Mr. Obama shared a 10-minute, off-the-record conversation with pool reporters on Air Force One.

The print pooler, Scott Wilson of the Washington Post, described it as a choice between no access versus some discussion with Mr. Obama that’s not reportable. Wilson called the situation “not ideal at all.”

What the administration would rather discuss Tuesday is Mr. Obama’s pressure on Congress on the issue of the automatic budget cuts set to go into effect March 1.

Mr. Obama will speak Tuesday morning flanked by firefighters and other emergency responders who the White House says could lose their jobs if the sequester is not avoided. An administration official emailed reporters that the event will showcase “the kinds of working Americans whose jobs are on the line if Congressional Republicans fail to compromise on a balanced solution.”

The official previewed the remarks:

With less than two weeks before these cuts hit, the President will challenge Republicans to make a very simple choice: do they protect investments in education, health care and national defense or do they continue to prioritize and protect tax loopholes that benefit the very few at the expense of middle and working class Americans?

The President has already taken steps to reduce the deficit by more than $2.5 trillion and he wants to do more. He has on the table a plan that will further reduce the deficit in a balanced way and achieve the kinds of savings we need to get is on a fiscally sustainable path while making the investments we need in education, manufacturing and research and development that will grow and strengthen the middle class.

The early look suggests that Mr. Obama will lay the blame squarely on Republicans who control just one chamber of the divided Congress. Mr. Obama will mention that “Congressional Democrats have proposed a smaller package to delay these cuts from taking effect.” That plan is a mix of ending subsidies for oil companies and other businesses, along with a tax hike for millionaires and ending tax breaks for companies that ship jobs overseas — all efforts the GOP opposes.

“The President will urge Congressional Republicans to compromise and accept this solution so these devastating cuts that will hurt our economy and middle class families won’t hit,” the official said.

As Molly Hooper reports for The Hill, some rank-and-file Republicans say “they’re not worried their leverage could be cut once the spending cuts are triggered, though they acknowledge Obama is a tough political adversary.”

She writes that these Republicans see the sequester as a way to force spending cuts, and that they “are also getting ready to battle by reminding voters it was the White House that conceived of the sequester — the $1.2 trillion in deficit-reductions, including lower interest payments, that were included as part of the deal in 2011 to raise the debt ceiling.”

Congress returns to Washington on Monday.

AFTER NEWTOWN

On Monday, PBS began a weeklong series exploring every facet of the gun debate in the wake of the tragic shooting massacre in Newtown, Conn. The series features looks at signature programs, starting with Monday’s NewsHour, as we examined how the political debate and effort to affect change has spread to the states.

Gwen Ifill led the show with a piece about how state and local pension funds are divesting their stake in gun manufacturers. She also reported on the killing of a sister of a girl who was on stage Friday with Mr. Obama.

Gwen then talked with Christina about local lawmakers from Arkansas to New York who are taking matters into their own hands. Christina noted that CQ Roll Call’s StateTrack found that 2,319 bills related to guns have been filed so far this year. They also talked about efforts by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s gun control political action committee to influence a special House election in Chicago.

Watch the discussion here or below:


Colorado Public Radio’s Megan Verlee took a look at how Colorado is dealing with the aftermath of the shootings at Columbine High School and the movie theater in Aurora. She reported on how those affected by gun violence are pushing for legislative reform at the state level and tougher enforcement of existing laws. Colorado’s Democratic-controlled state House passed four gun control bills Monday, including universal background checks and limiting magazines to 15 rounds.

Watch Verlee’s report here or below:


Hari Sreenivasan talked with students in a Google Hangout to see how they view the debate. Is it a question of arming teachers or banning video games? Participants were from Richwood High School in W.Va.; Desert Pines High School in Las Vegas; Daniel Pearl Magnet School in Los Angeles; Sentinel High School in Missoula, Mont.’ Magnolia High School in Magnolia, Texas; and Pearl-Cohn Entertainment Magnet High School in Nashville, Tenn.

On Tuesday, Jeffrey Brown will look at violent video games. The project includes robust online offerings that you can check out here. Find all the details about which pieces are airing and when here.

LINE ITEMS

  • Nebraska GOP Sen. Mike Johanns will retire in 2014, the Lincoln Journal Star reports. National Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee chairman Jerry Moran said in a statement that he’s confident Nebraska will remain in GOP hands.

  • A major Democratic fundraiser may back Republican Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett in his re-election efforts next year.

  • The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee out-raised the NRCC in January by almost $2 million — the DCCC’s best ever January, Roll Call reports.

  • The New York Times’ Jonathan Weisman profiles Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee executive director Guy Cecil and his recent successes.

  • Former Massachusetts GOP Sen. Scott Brown said in an interview
    with Fox 25 Monday night that he’s “thinking about” a bid for the governor’s mansion in 2014.

  • Sarah Palin will speak at the Conservative Political Action Conference in March.

  • Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s tea party challenger is emerging.

  • Rep. Vern Buchanan, R-Fla., is still under scrutiny, this time because of allegations from his business’ former chief financial officer.

  • Talking Points Memo takes a closer look at Sen. Marco Rubio’s response to the White House’s leaked immigration plans, noting that Republicans may be more willing to come on board to an immigration deal if they think they’re snubbing the White House.

  • “The path to the U.S. Senate doesn’t get much easier than the one Rep. Edward J. Markey is on,” writes Nathan Gonzales in Roll Call.

  • With the passing of former New York City mayor Ed Koch, how does mayoral candidate Christine Quinn take advantage of the endorsement he gave her? Here’s the story from the Times.

  • The New York Times exposes the sweet perks of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s job: a $2,700 a year ice cream fund taken from the state budget.

  • Republican insiders tell Hotline OnCall they want former GOP Sen. John Sununu to challenge Democratic Sen. Jeanne Shaheen in New Hampshire in 2014. It would be the pair’s third showdown in as many cycles.

  • The Times had another major scoop Monday: The hacking of American companies’ online networks came from a building in China that houses members of its army.

  • A look at the Obama administration’s effort to map the brain.

  • Mississippi has officially passed the 13th Amendment, thanks to a neurobiology professor who was curious about the amendment’s unknown fate in his state after watching “Lincoln.”

  • Garden and Gun magazine looks deep into the world of Civil War shell collectors and finds that the last casualty of the Civil War was in 2008 in a Virginia man’s driveway.

  • Here’s your chance to be a TV star on MSNBC.

  • Hottest president? We’re going with Rutherford B. Hayes, obviously.

  • Tuesday’s tidbit from NewsHour partner Face the Facts USA counts the totals for student debt.

NEWSHOUR ROUNDUP

  • The day after thousands took to the National Mall to protest the Keystone XL Pipeline, Judy Woodruff fielded a debate on climate issues between Bob Deans of the Natural Resources Defense Council, which helped organize the protest, and lobbyist Scott Segal, who represents energy companies fighting for Keystone Extension.

  • Reporter-producer Cassie M. Chew looked at how a documentary about sexual assault in the military is changing the political conversation, and here is Jeff’s conversation with the director of “The Invisible War,” Kirby Dick.

  • Next week, the Supreme Court will examine a constitutional challenge to the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The landmark case asks whether the act is still necessary and whether voters still risk disenfranchisement in certain parts of the country. The NewsHour will examine the questions this case raises, and we’d like your help as we go even deeper. Get details about our Oral History project here. You can record your memory now using the button below, or call (703) 594-6PBS to share your story.


TOP TWEETS

Politics desk assistant Simone Pathe contributed to this report.

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Questions or comments? Email Christina Bellantoni at cbellantoni-at-newshour-dot-org.

Follow the politics team on Twitter: @cbellantoni, @burlij, @elizsummers, @kpolantz, @indiefilmfan, @tiffanymullon, @dePeystah and @meenaganesan.

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