Obama Meets with Muslim Leaders and Only a Comedian Is Allowed to Cover It

President Barack Obama shows the Resolute Desk to a group of DREAMers, following their Oval Office meeting in which they talked about how they have benefited from the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, Feb. 4, 2015.
White House Photo by Pete Souza

President Obama meets with many people. Just this month, he’s welcomed a world leader, King Abdullah of Jordan; a hockey team, Kings of Los Angeles; and a group of DREAMers.

Some of those meetings are on the record. Some are off. Nobody would argue that a president has to divulge every detail of every conversation. But Americans deserve to know who is visiting the White House, even if we do not know what was discussed.

On Wednesday, President Obama hosted a closed-door meeting with 15 American Muslim leaders. The administration will not say who attended the meeting. But one writer was there, and he is talking.

“I was one of 15 Muslim-American leaders to attend a one-hour meeting with President Obama at the White House,” comedian/columnist Dean Obeidallah writes at the Daily Beast. He discloses that another attendee was Farhana Khera, “a lawyer and executive director of Muslim Advocates, who spearheaded the effort.”

That’s two names down, 13 names to go.

Obeidallah says Khera told the President the country needs to “enact a tougher federal policy that would ban racial and religious profiling by law enforcement.” For his part, Obeidallah says he warned the President about the danger of Republican “bigotry” against Islam. “While I can’t share the President’s exact response, I can tell you that he expressed his strong commitment to our community to fight anti-Muslim bigotry.

The comedian/columnist adds that “there are certain ground rules to these meetings, so I can’t disclose everything.” And with those words, he’s said more than he understands.

As a reporter writing about the meeting, he’s broken any media embargo that might have existed. The White House cannot give a reporter exclusive access while refusing to divulge even the identity of others in the meeting. That’s a violation of an unwritten journalistic code.

This isn’t an exclusive interview. It’s a meeting to discuss policy, as Obeidallah’s clips make clear.

Besides, when, say, Steve Kroft sits down with Obama for an exclusive, everyone knows it (or edited parts of it) will air on CBS. Other reporters will soon be allowed to know what was discussed.

In this case, though, one reporter is allowed to know what was discussed, and the rest of the country is to be kept in the dark. That’s not how it works.

Every reporter wants to know what’s going on inside the White House. That’s why the presidential beat is the highest-profile job at most news organizations. It was the launch pad for anchors, including Dan Rather and Brian Williams, for example.

This White House once promised transparency. Instead, it won’t even divulge who the President met with on Wednesday. As an aside, when he’s met with Christian leaders, those names were on the record.

But he can’t have it both ways. Obeidallah’s breaking a story. Americans deserve to know who the President met with in the White House.


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