March 31, 2009

I didn’t want my first post “back” to be a simple cut and paste, but …

Filed under: Politics — HighStakesBlog @ 7:05 pm

As the son of a journalist and the former editor of the award-winning and esteemed Wittenberg Torch (I could barely type that with a  straight face), I have rather strong views on the newspaper business as you saw in a previous post.  On top of personal experiences, I consider myself a Jeffersonian and the concept of a Fourth Estate is something I consider paramount (when properly executed).  Sadly, I am somewhat resigned to the fate of both the craft/art of journalism and the newspapers that used to be the bastion of journalistic excellence.  But from time-to-time an article, blog or Op-Ed still resonates and forces me to pay attention.  Below is just such a piece.  Tell me.  Are this guy and I the only ones who care?

White House press corps serves mostly as backdrop

Tuesday,  March 31, 2009 2:57 AM

Excuse me, but I am a potted plant. Well, at best an extra, who has been sent over by Central Casting to fill in the numbers.I am not alone. At least 350 other potted plants, also known as White House reporters, gathered in the East Room last week to watch what the White House itself called “the program.”

The thing was concocted, stage-managed and went off well enough, given that the White House press office had wrung anything like spontaneity out of it. It was indeed as they had billed it: a program in which President Barack Obama took his time to respond at length to some really bland and uninspired questions, posed by largely the same people –from the television networks plus the Associated Press — who are called upon daily in press secretary Robert Gibbs’ briefings.

At those briefings, the rest of us sit there in our potting soil. We wave our arms in the hope we might be recognized toward the end of a long, rambling session that seems more like the press secretary chatting with his pals who have seats assigned in the front.

Keep this up and reporters morph into courtiers, which serves neither the larger purposes of democracy nor the specific strategies of the administration. At some level, it is also very insulting to the large number of reporters who ply the journalism trade in Washington.

Clearly, the White House is defining reporters by where they work rather than what they do. This is an inversion, lacking in understanding of the realities of the media craft.

The truth is that newspapers trump television every time when it comes to original reporting. Their nature and tradition makes it that way. Television — and I have worked in it and contemporaneously with print for many years — is the friend of the instant and the enemy of the profound.

The written word, not the broadcast one, is the beacon of liberty. It is durable, more accountable and requires more coherence than its powerful but fleeting electronic cousin.

It is neither right nor possible for the White House to balance out the competing claims for the right to question the president or the press secretary. The solution lies in the past: The right to question should go to eager questioners, whose earnest cries rise above a forest of hands.

It is messy, but it works. Actually, 350 people shouting Mr. President is an affirmation of a free press rather than the pre-selection of an elite with a predictable roster of questions — usually right out of that day’s newspapers.

The old free-for-alls, where the president or the briefer selected from a clamoring throng, was disorderely, noisy and rather glorious in that the world could see how open the media is in the United States. As it is now, it appears scripted even though the questions are composed only by the reporters — I hope.

Sure, the open system looks and sounds like feeding time at the animal shelter. But most of us would rather be seen jumping for attention than sitting around like plotted plants, honored to be allowed in but with nothing to do except fill out the numbers. Heck, you can do that with computer animation.

This administration gives every indication that it is enthralled by new media: Web-only publishing and bloggers. If it is to include their interests, it has to stop its rigid press handling and free things up in the interface between the White House and those who report on it.

The alternative is the kind of quota system that was emerging last week, designed to mollify those who were upset after Obama’s first press conference: the military press, the Hispanic broadcasters and, in concession to new media, Politico, which tries to be both print and Web.

Personally, I do not like shouting questions in crowded “programs.” I am quite relaxed as a potted plant.

Llewellyn King is executive producer and host of White House Chronicle on PBS.



1 Comment »

  1. I agree with a lot of what is being said here. But, I think a lot of it IS scripted and while I don’t like it, I cannot say that I necessarily blame the White House. I would tend to blame the reporters more. I know you will rip me on this. I recognize that I have stepped out of my area of expertise and in to yours. But I am SO SICK of the media blowing tiny things way out of proportion for ratings.

    If you want to get back to the “Fundamentals”, aren’t journalists’ jobs to inform the public about things that we need to be educated about? Things that we as the American public need to know to make educated decisions and keep up-to-date on the world around us? It is their job to get the truth, and relay that truth to us.

    Anymore, it seems that it is more about twisting the truth into BS that sells. Twisting words and “reading deeper” to extract things that aren’t there that will sell. A prime example is that story that came out about Michael Phelps. Dude works his arse off in a pool to represent his country at the Olympic games. Puts together unparalleled performances. Seemed like a good guy, loved his family, was naturally gifted but worked hard to get where he is. He goes out one night to hang with his friends, some idiot snaps a shot of him smoking pot, and sells it to the “media”. They post it ALL OVER every media outlet possible. And THEN have the nerve to talk for weeks about, “What kind of role model is he?!? What message is this going to send to kids?!?” The only reason that KIDS even know about it is because YOU plastered it up everywhere and you could make your buck.

    To get back to the White House though, everything that is said is scrutinized and interpreted to DEATH. What surfaces is a twisted bastard of what was actually meant. When asked something unexpected we all mumble over our words. What does the media do with this? “Tonight at 11, see what happens when the president is asked about (insert any controversial topic here). What is he hiding behind those lies and what effect is this going to have on you?!?”

    I want the truth. I want straight, unedited, unscripted questions. But the flip side of that is that it is only possible with straight forward reporting. I want the TRUTH, not the “bedazzled truth”

    Comment by chemdork — March 31, 2009 @ 8:22 pm

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