Obama Press Office? Johnston Saw Trouble in ‘09

Today, Politico has a long, much-Twittered-about piece detailing “why reporters are down on Obama,” (for starters, named and unnamed reporters say, the White House plays favorites with reporters, is stingy with access, and “even reporters for major newspapers say they have trouble getting their calls and e-mails returned”).

David Cay Johnston, writing for CJR on January 29, 2009, wondered if “President Obama’s messages about open government” perhaps hadn’t reached press secretary Robert Gibbs and his staff. Wrote Johnston:

I’m still waiting for Gibbs, or someone with authority to speak on the record, to call me back for that interview I wanted to start with—and now for a second one about how the White House press office operates.

More Johnston:

While it is too early to judge just how this will work out, the early signs are troubling. And interviews with a dozen Washington reporters indicate that the Obama press operation tends to embrace friendly questions, while treating skeptical questions as not worth their time or, worse, as coming from an enemy.

From Politico today:

A routine press query can draw a string of vitriolic emails. 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.

From Johnston in January ‘09:

As of now the Obama press office is effectively, if perhaps unintentionally, working against President Obama’s campaign promises of change and transparency. Will that change? Will the disdain of the Bush years give way to open government that understands, and appreciates, society’s watchdogs?

We’ll have to wait and see.

From Politico today:

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.

What’s so funny? More from Politico:

“The access is much poorer than the Bush administration,” one national newspaper who regularly covers the White House said. “This is wider than just the White House. I feel like the political appointees in a variety of agencies are more difficult to get to. There are people…you could reach in the Bush administration that now they say ‘That position does not speak to the press. We do not give background. We do not give anything.’”

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Liz Cox Barrett is a writer at CJR.