A little more than a week ago, Vice President Joe Biden traveled to fund-raisers in two battleground-state cities, Pittsburgh and Cincinnati.
Neither stop included the White House press corps; requests by local media to cover the events were denied by the vice president’s press office. The Democratic National Committee arranged all of the events for the Obama Victory Fund.
A number of seasoned political reporters and former White House press-office staffers consider that lack of press coverage to be a dangerous precedent.
“It would behoove the Obama administration to keep its promise of transparency even with fund-raisers,” agrees Jeff Brauer, a political history professor at Keystone College. “The United States is a democracy, after all.”
Having press coverage of fund-raising events with the president or vice president matters for at least two reasons, Brauer explains:
“One, large amounts of taxpayer dollars are being used for personal security at such events. As with all tax dollars, they should be spent with accountability.
“Two, it is important for the public to know what the president and vice president are saying to donors. Is it the same message they are saying to the electorate at-large?”
Such knowledge helps citizens to judge the authenticity and integrity of officeholders.
The White House press office earlier this month rejected a request by the Boston Herald, a conservative-leaning newspaper, to cover an Obama fundraiser. Its publicly-outed e-mail said so-called pool reporters are chosen based on whether they cover the news “fairly.”
Several former and current White House correspondents see a nightmare scenario in presidents choosing who covers them. The correspondents also are agitated by Biden’s refusal to be covered by local press, even if that means having reporters cool their heels outside an invitation-only fund-raiser.
“What if something happened to him?” is the question they raise.
All administrations want to be enshrined in a warm glow. All members of the press want to protect democracy by keeping the public informed and holding administrations accountable.
Throughout American history, presidents and politicians in general have had tenuous relations with the press.
President John Adams, a Federalist, went so far as to sign the Sedition Act of 1798, which made it a crime to publish “scandalous and malicious” writings about government officials.