White House’s ‘slickly-produced interview’ of Supreme Court nominee leads to charges of ‘propaganda’
Every White House does its best to secure a positive spin on the messages it puts out. But where the Bush administration was notorious for its attempts to maintain tight control over the press pool, the Obama administration has shown an inclination to make an end run around the press entirely.
The latest example is the administration’s posting of its own video interview of Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan on the White House blog, while indicating she would not be available for more formal press interviews. This led CBS News to report somewhat tartly, “While the White House seems to believe the American people deserve to hear from Kagan, it has not made her available to reporters. That prompted some consternation at today’s White House briefing.”
In recent weeks, the tension between the Obama administration and the press has become so apparent that one blogger at The Left Coaster felt a need to push back against it, writing, “The same White House press pool that let the Bush administration use them as a doormat as long as they were given access is now complaining about the Obama administration not giving them access, and hammering them for adverse coverage. … These are the same people who let the Bush administration play them like a drum and let Jeff Gannon and other nuts join their ranks with little uproar because they were afraid of Rove and Ari Fleischer.”
The Kagan matter, however, is potentially more serious than last month’s complaints about Obama ditching the press pool to attend his daughter’s soccer game. The latest fuss began when reporters learned on Tuesday that the White House had posted on its own website an interview, conducted by its official videographer Arun Chaudhary, in which Kagan spoke about her childhood, family, and career.
As described by Mediaite, “From a PR standpoint, the short (3 min 22 sec), slickly-produced interview is a triumph, showcasing KaganÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s personality in a milieu of graceful camera changes and stylishly floating stills. … Journalistically, you could argue that KaganÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s feet werenÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t actually held to the fire here, or even a warm pair of slippers.”
According to CBS, at Tuesday’s press briefing, one reporter asked Press Secretary Robert Gibbs,”Who did the interview? And can I have one?” After Gibbs replied that the interview was on the White House website, the reporter asked a second time if Kagan would like to do another interview and Gibbs replied, “She’s not told me that, no.”
“Tell her we’re deeply frustrated,” the reporter commented.
The CBS story did acknowledge that “it seems to be unprecedented for the nominee to be heard from at all before the confirmation hearings, other than in the initial introduction and in brief photo ops with senators.” It noted, however, that the in-house interview represents a fresh example of “the Obama administration’s policy of regularly using new media tools to go around traditional media.”
The San Francisco Examimer, however, was far blunter. Its comment on the CBS story was headed “White House bypasses press for propaganda Ã¢â‚¬ËœinterviewÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ of Supreme Court nominee” and remarked sarcastically, “IsnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t that generous of them? Why bother with an independent and free press when the White House is willing to do all of their hard work for them?”
At Fox News’ “FoxNation” website, an extended excerpt from the CBS News story was posted under the even stronger headline, “Reporters Furious Over Kagan’s WH Propaganda Video.” And conservative blog Hot Air also ran with “White House issues Kagan propaganda video.”
Even when it comes to new media, access to Kagan appears to be limited. ABC News Senior White House Correspondent Jake Tapper grumped in a Twitter posting on Tuesday, “i went to @elenakagan but got: ‘This person has protected their tweets.’ humph.”
Tapper followed this up an hour later with a link to the White House video and the comment, “Bypassing the ‘filter’ > RT @BarackObama: Hear directly from Elena Kagan, my nominee for the United States Supreme Court.”
The White House blog on which the video appears is maintained by Jesse Lee, who worked his way up from handing out anti-Iraq War leaflets to blogging for Nancy Pelosi and then running the DNC’s 2008 rapid-response team. Now, according to whorunsgov.com, “as the online guru of the fledgling Obama White House, he is tasked with mending the occasionally contentious relationship between left-wing bloggers and Beltway politicians, harnessing the netroots reach and passion to spread the administrationÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s message.”
Lee has, however, been known to employ the White House blog in a manner that might be more appropriate for the netroots, as when he directly called out Fox News last fall, writing, “Last night Fox News continued its disregard for the facts in an attempt to smear the Administration’s efforts to win the Olympics for the United States. … Once again Fox News’ Glenn Beck program has shown that nothing is worthy of respect if it can be used as part of a partisan attack to boost ratings.” This was followed a month later by an unsuccessful White House attempt to ban Fox News from a round of interviews with “pay czar” Kenneth Feinberg.
Lee’s blog has also been accused by liberal bloggers of a lack of transparency. Last winter, for example, Jane Hamsher of FireDogLake noted that Lee had promoted what he described as an “objective analysis” of health care reform by an expert who was actually a paid White House consultant.