Frayed nerves with WH press corps

Armstrong Williams

4/19/2010 12:01:00 AM - Armstrong Williams

It seems the love affair the Obama administration currently enjoys with the mainstream media has recently hit some bumpy spots that might make Tiger Woods blush. Well, it’s not that bad. Yet.

Howard Kurtz of the Washington Post has an interesting piece today on how the White House has lashed out at CBS News for posting an online column from a right-leaning blogger leveling some serious allegations. The blogger, former Bush official Ben Domenech, states Obama would certainly “please” his base by naming the first openly gay justice to the highest court in the land. He’s referring to the sexual orientation of the current Solicitor General Elena Kagan, widely believed to be one of the president’s leading candidates to replace Justice Stevens on the Supreme Court.

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When the blog was initially posted, CBS refused to take it down, prompting many at the Casa Blanca to bluntly question the journalistic standards of CBS.

This latest kerfufle is symptomatic of larger behind-the-scenes backbiting between the White House press shop and its press corps. Just last weekend, the Post sent out a system-wide email to its readers on how the president had given them all the slip and ducked out of town for a few hours. The horror! He went to watch his daughter’s soccer game, yet the inference was a major new presidential protocol was being established. The AP story the Post relayed led with the headline, “Obama breaches years of president/press tradition” and then later went on to state (oh so humbly!): “The White House press corps traditionally travels with the president anywhere he goes, inside and outside the country, to report on the president's activities for the benefit of informing the public and for historical record.”

Just this week, the Post further highlighted the growing tensions in a profile piece of White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs, complaining the administration’s top spokesman is notoriously difficult to get on the phone as deadlines approach and that the White House is turning more to social networking tools to make news. It ended by saying a group of news organizations will meet with Gibbs later this month to express what they feel is the administration’s “contempt for the press.”

A few observations here: First of all, White House journalists are blowing this way out of proportion. The Obama administration has contempt for the MSM? Give me a break! This has been the biggest love-fest since Ike was elected and John Kennedy was running around town philandering while photographers looked the other way. But I get it. The fact Obama is doing more soft news shows such as Ellen and Sesame Street upsets the likes of David Gregory and Helen Thomas. The MSM needs to complain a little in order to get the focus back on its members’ inflated egos. Why else do they whimper like babies when the POTUS doesn’t show to their biggest party of the year – the White House Correspondents Dinner?

The casual observer would say a mutual distrust between the media and the White House is healthy – it keeps both sides honest and engaged, with neither taking the other for granted. Personally, I’ve felt the WH press corps hasn’t done enough to cover the stories that would potentially cast a shadow on this president. Don’t believe me? Just compare the West Virginia coal mine tragedy or Toyota recalls to Bush and his handling of Katrina. All were domestic incidents of national awareness. Yet the press corps intentionally kept Toyota and West Virginia industry- and state specific pieces, respectively, with little mention of White House involvement, and certainly not the president’s. With Katrina, liberals sensed a Pulitzer in the offing and felt compelled to psychoanalyze the souls of President Bush and his team to question their allegiance to a city so dominated by another race. Please.

Is this latest incident with White House journalists a tempest in a tea pot? You bet. And the sooner Obama slips into the briefing room and the two sides kiss and make up, the sooner we can go back to dissecting Tiger Woods’ infidelities.