A Pattern of Abuse Emerges, From Top Down

Carol Platt Liebau

2/28/2013 11:45:01 AM - Carol Platt Liebau

This morning, I noted that -- taken in context -- what Gene Sperling wrote to Bob Woodward didn't qualify as an outright "threat," at least to me.

It's worth wondering why The White House so quickly released the Sperling email, though.  Was it to prevent other members of the MSM from coming forward with their own stories of abuse at the hands of Obama's people? If so, it may be too late.

Ron Fournier, late of the AP and now of the National Journal, tells of hectoring and abuse from "a senior White House official" so severe that he finally told that person to buzz off -- a first for him in his career.  Lanny Davis -- a former Clinton aide -- likewise revealed this morning on WMAL that he, too, was threatened. And don't forget the administration bullying of CBS reporter Sheryl Attkisson, when she was reporting on Fast and Furious; Attkisson says "they literally screamed at me and cussed at me."

A New York Times report on Valerie Jarrett also details attacks on allies like the ACLU's director and Cornel West.

These are stories that ought to be told.  One wonders whether the abuse would even have occurred in the first place had there not been a media atmosphere so worshipful that it led administration members to believe they could act this way with impunity.

After all, the administration paid no price for its systematic attempt to discredit Fox News back in 2009.  And remember this gem from the San Francisco Chronicle back in 2011, when The White House threatened to remove one of its reporters (and possibly other Hearst reporters) from the press pool and then lied about it? Chronicle editor Ward Bushee released a statement at the time:

Sadly, we expected the White House to respond in this manner based on our experiences yesterday. It is not a truthful response. It follows a day of off-the-record exchanges with key people in the White House communications office who told us they would remove our reporter, then threatened retaliation to Chronicle and Hearst reporters if we reported on the ban, and then recanted to say our reporter might not be removed after all.

The White House has been acting this way for quite some time.  Note the observations of White House Dossier's Keith Koffler, back on March 14 of 2011:

The White House bullies reporters to try to ensure favorable coverage. When White House officials, particularly members of the press office, see a story they don’t like, they often call and verbally abuse the reporter who wrote the piece.

In diatribes often peppered with obscenities, they complain of profound injustice, bias, lack of relevance – anything they can think of to get reporters to back off their story.

It’s not just a series of uncontrolled outbursts. It is a planned, methodical, and highly artificial effort to either squash a story or get inside a reporter’s head so they think twice about doing a piece next time that negatively impacts Obama.

That this is an actual policy is evident from the consistency of the practice and its implementation by nearly every member of the White House press office staff. They are all nice, affable people who suddenly switch into an unmarked gear and begin running you over at full speed.

I have been told by one Obama flack that a story was “horseshit” and by another that “you’re really going to win a fucking Nobel Prize for that one.” A third, while he was working on the campaign in 2008, told me he “almost fell out of my chair” when he heard I was working on a certain piece and proceeded with a profanity-laced analysis of its weaknesses.

A fourth, who I’d thought was the good cop among the bunch, had a sudden change of personality in his office one day when he tore into a rather routine article of mine that barely grazed the president.

And I’d never even heard from former Press Secretary Robert Gibbs. Even President Obama has acknowledged Gibbs could give reporters a hard time.

All this while I was a member of the mainstream press with Roll Call, before I launched this blog.

Despite Woodward's weak protestations that's he's sure the President knows nothing about any of the threats, what the facts suggest is that the tactic comes from the top.  Obama's bullied a wide variety of targets -- from the Supreme Court (actually, twice), to (pre-campaign) Paul Ryan, and of course, Mitt Romney, running a campaign that reached a new low in ugly distortion

The real problem is that a meek, compliant and largely-supportive press has declined to report about The White House behavior in the kind of systematic way that would bring it to public attention.  If the Woodward kerfuffle succeeds finally in precipitating this kind of coverage, then perhaps it's worth something, after all.