News leaked via Politico’s Dylan Byers that five D.C.-based conservative journalists met President Barack Obama on Tuesday in an off-the-record session. No, I’m not upset that we weren’t invited–the Groucho Marx rule is relevant here, more so the fact that no members of the conservative new media attended (or were invited). Clearly the White House fears what the New York Times recently identified as the backbone of the opposition.
What concerns me is that these journalists–some of whom I admire greatly–had to suspect they were being used as a political ploy to circumvent House Republicans, with whom Obama refuses to negotiate one-on-one. A leak to Politico does not usually happen by accident–and the conservative journalists would have broken a core ethical principle if they had leaked the meeting, so it is clear the White House wanted the meeting known.
The intent was either to intimidate House Speaker John Boehner, or to present the president as a man eager to reach out to the other side–or both. It is impossible that the president actually wanted to listen to what conservatives had to say about the issues of the day–for it he did, he would have invited at least one person who is known to approve of Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX)’s oppositional tactics or the overall strategy of the House Republicans.
An invitation from the president is hard to turn down, but under the circumstances it was the right thing to do. Interviews and individual conversations are one thing, but no journalists–conservative or otherwise–should allow themselves to participate in a group meeting that amounted to political theater. They should have declined, politely, until the president had met with the opposition–especially because he can talk about it, and they cannot.