It doesn’t get more ironic than this: Barack Obama, who boasted of how his administration was the “most transparent in history,” cracked jokes at the Gridiron Club annual dinner Saturday night about his transparency while the event was closed to outside press. Obama said:
Now, since I don’t often speak to a room full of journalists — (laughter) — I thought I should address a few concerns tonight. Some of you have said that I’m ignoring the Washington press corps — that we're too controlling. You know what, you were right. I was wrong and I want to apologize in a video you can watch exclusively at whitehouse.gov. (Laughter.) While we’re on this subject, I want to acknowledge Ed Henry, who is here — who is the fearless leader of the Washington press corps now. (Applause.) And at Ed’s request, tonight I will take one question from the press. Jay, do we have a question? (Laughter.) Surprisingly, it’s a question from Ed Henry. (Laughter.) “Mr. President, will you be taking any questions tonight?” (Laughter.) I'm happy to answer that. No, Ed, I will not. (Laughter.)
The Gridiron Club is a group of 65 journalists, and the juxtaposition of those journalists holding others at bay has some in the press unhappy. Ever eager to grab some crumbs from the White House table, though, the press assumed their usual position as lapdogs. Howard Mortman, the communications director at C-SPAN, said, “We are obviously disappointed particularly considering the President is attending this year. We continue to believe the dinner should be open to media coverage.” But then he continued, "Because the Club is permitting a pool reporter, we will make lemonade from lemons and discuss the dinner on air using the pool report, b-roll, and aggregated tweets.”
POLITICO called Obama a “puppet master” in February and complained:
With more technology, and fewer resources at many media companies, the balance of power between the White House and press has tipped unmistakably toward the government. This is an arguably dangerous development, and one that the Obama White House — fluent in digital media and no fan of the mainstream press — has exploited cleverly and ruthlessly.
Yet the same outlet took pains to suddenly defend Obama’s Gridiron Club shut-out of the press, and spoke for the entire press corps by saying, “The rest of the press corps -- grateful for a concession, if not wholly satisfied -- will make due.”
Obama’s history of treating the press with contempt hearkens back to the initial years of his presidency. In 2009, POLITICO reported:
Veteran CBS newsman Bill Plante was one of the most vocal critics, questioning the White House’s handling of Wednesday night’s second swearing in – which was covered by just a four-reporter print pool that didn’t include a news photographer or TV correspondent. He also asked new press secretary Robert Gibbs why ABC, which paid millions to host the DC Neighborhood Ball, was granted the only inauguration day interview with President Obama – a move he equated to “pay to play.”
“It is ironic, the same day that the president is talking about transparency, we `were not let in,” CNN’s Ed Henry said on the air Wednesday night after news of the second swearing-in broke.
Before Gibbs took the podium, reporters were given a background briefing under an agreement to only attribute information to “senior administration officials”—a policy some news organizations object to as a matter of policy.
And then, in 2010, POLITICO issued a blistering story that reported how non-transparent the Obama Administration was:
Day-to-day interaction with Obama is almost nonexistent, and he talks to the press corps far less often than Bill Clinton or even George W. Bush did …The ferocity of pushback is intense. A routine press query can draw a string of vitriolic e-mails. A negative story can draw a profane high-decibel phone call or worse. Some reporters feel like they’ve been frozen out after crossing the White House … Except toward a few reporters, press secretary Robert Gibbs can be distant and difficult to reach … one paper — The New York Times — enjoys a favoritism from Obama and his staff that makes competitors fume with gift-wrapped scoops and loads of presidential face time …
The correspondents association recently met with Gibbs to discuss, in the words of Bloomberg's Ed Chen, "a level of anger, which is wide and deep, among members over White House practices and attitude toward the press.” A few days later, Gibbs said at one of his briefings, “This is the most transparent administration in the history of our country.” Peals of laughter broke out in the briefing room.
The derisive laughter over Obama’s supposed transparency has turned into obsequious laughter now. Obama treats the press like trained seals, and they’re all too willing to bark on cue.