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Obama's Open and Shut Approach to Access

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of

According to President-elect Barack Obama’s latest radio address, this will be “the most open and accessible inauguration in history.”

I guess he forgot to tell his inauguration committee. They have “struck deals with three television networks to the tune of more than $5 million,” according to the Jan. 17 Washington Post.

So much for open government.

Obama hasn’t even taken the oath of office and he’s blocking media outlets that don’t pay. He even shut out C-Span – almost unheard of in Washington. Instead, his inauguration is raking in cash and limiting access to ordinary Americans to help pay for the festivities.

If this were John McCain’s inauguration, the media would be using the Rod Blagojevich  term – “pay for play.” Since it’s Obama, it’s a “celebration.”

And it’s a pricey one at that. In fact, the almost-coronation of Obama could cost up to $150 million and be the most-expensive inauguration in American history. That’s equal to what 3,000 entire households earn in a year and our inaugural committee spends that much in the blink of an eye.

What’s scary is his team doesn’t think that is too much. According to the Associated Press, “Obama's inauguration committee says it is mindful of the times and is not worried people will see the four days of festivities as excessive.”

“That is probably not the way the country is going to be looking at it,” committee spokeswoman Linda Douglass told AP. “It is not a celebration of an election. It is a celebration of our common values.

Not all that common. The story went on to report how the committee is “eliminating floral arrangements and negotiating prices on food” to limit costs on the 10 inaugural balls. That’s certainly isn’t how most voters make budget every month.

It’s amazing how hypocritical this all is. Back in 2007 when the NFL network announced the Patriots and Giants game wasn’t going to be seen by people who didn’t have the NFL network, it was a big news story. Congress tried to force showing of the game on regular cable. Seventeen Democrats complained it was exclusionary -- and that was just for a football game. Now the most expensive inauguration in history sells out to its buddies in the media, and that’s OK.

But there’s more to it than just the outlandish cost or hypocrisy. It’s where that money comes from. Sunday’s concert and propaganda extravaganza looked more like the Oscars than Washington. The stage was filled with tons of Hollywood A-listers who are throwing their continued support to the new president in song – and in dollars.

The New York Times stressed back in November that “Obama’s inaugural committee is limiting the amount of donations that it will accept to $50,000, part of his continuing pledge to limit the influence of money in government and a signal that Mr. Obama intends to encourage the public to participate in his inaugural.”

Some limit. As of Jan. 17, 420 people had contributed the $50,000 maximum – totaling $21 million. That’s a vault filled with change. The list reads like a liberal Who’s Who, especially from Hollywood – Sharon Stone, Norman Lear, George Lucas, Steven Spielberg, Bill and Melinda Gates and George Soros to name just a few.

Where are the media outlets questioning this kind of pay for play arrangement? There aren’t any.

If Obama is such a newsmaking media icon, then these events are news. That means networks share the feed and don’t cut exclusive arrangements to pay the new president for access. At the very least, the media should be doing their jobs and defending public access to the events – the very same thing Obama has promised.

Of course, that won’t happen. Just watch five minutes of inauguration coverage and you’ll know why. This is the same media that gave its full support to Obama during the campaign. Journalists and those in the entertainment media are among Obama’s strongest constituencies. Now they are celebrating right along with the new president.

That is similar to the kind of adulation CNN’s Soledad O’Brien used on her viewers Saturday. O’Brien, described the perfect “metaphor” – that Obama was like the pilot who landed the plane in the Hudson River. The following night, CNBC’s Chief Washington Correspondent John Harwood depicted Obama as a combination of John F. Kennedy, Ronald Reagan and Franklin Delano Roosevelt. “What makes Obama so fascinating is that his story and message contain echoes of all three of those extraordinary leaders Kennedy, Reagan, Roosevelt, not to mention the unifying themes of Abraham Lincoln of Illinois.”

Those aren’t the words of journalists who are going to worry about the details of the inauguration other than to complain about where they get to sit to view their new president.

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