As I predicted, the news media is turning on the Obama administration. Not just because the Justice Department, trying to trace a leak, subpoenaed phone companies for a list of calls made and received over two months by 20 reporters from the Associated Press (including both office and personal cell phones). According to the Washington Post, tensions have been simmering between the White House and the press corp for some time.
Reporters have grumbled for several years about being ignored, dismissed and even insulted by White House press officials. More than usual, the White House’s relationship with the press corps has been marked by simmering tension and even mutual contempt.
The sweeping and unusual move was part of a year-long investigation into the disclosure of classified information about a failed al-Qaeda plot last year.
And now the temperature has been raised to a boil.
The Justice Department’s revelation that it secretly subpoenaed the Associated Press’s phone records in order to hunt down the source of a national security leak has elicited nearly unanimous criticism and condemnation of the department’s action from news organizations.
The media’s unusual united front was spelled out in a letter Tuesday to Attorney General Eric H.Holder Jr. by the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, a group that includes the major television networks, magazine publishers and newspapers, including The Washington Post. It called the government’s subpoena of the AP records, “an overreaching dragnet” by the department and demanded the return of phone logs taken from four AP bureaus and reporters’ personal phones.
“The scope of this action calls into question the very integrity of Department of Justice policies toward the press and its ability to balance, on its own, its police powers against the First Amendment rights of the news media and the public’s interest in reporting on all manner of government conduct, including matters touching on national security which lie at the heart of this case,” the letter read. . . .
Despite the conservative portrayal of the press as Obama’s handmaiden, relations between reporters and the White House have never been sunny. Journalists have often been frustrated by what they see as a disdainful and belittling attitude toward them by members of the White House’s communications office, headed by Dan Pfeiffer.
Many White House journalists have been on the receiving end of scathing assessments of their work from White House press officials, replete with four-letter words and an occasional shouting match. Some have characterized it as a tactic to nudge them into accepting the administration’s view.
Reporters also have resented being bypassed as the White House takes its message directly to the public via social media, blogs and its Web site. Obama has granted few interviews to news organizations that regularly cover the president, going instead to soft-focus infotainment outlets such as “The View.”. . .
From the media’s perspective, the phone-records story is “a unifying event,” said Ben Feller, who covered the White House for the Associated Press for six years and now manages a communications firm in New York. “If there’s one area that the press [agrees about], it’s freedom of the press. . . . This does prompt outrage [among the media] because of the egregious scope of it.”
That view brought a somewhat cynical response from Ari Fleischer, who was President George W. Bush’s press secretary. He suggests that the two events that “shattered” the media’s relationship with Obama both directly affected the media: the Justice Department’s investigation of the Associated Press and the White House’s decision to shield Obama from reporters during a weekend golf outing in March. “It’s a sad reflection on the press,” Fleischer said. “They gave him the benefit of the doubt until it became about them.”
Even MSNBC’s Chris Matthews is now ripping the President, who once made him feel a thrill up his leg.