How Obama Controls Media Coverage of the Administration

Despite grand promises of transparency before he took office, Obama has proven to be the most secretive president in modern history. His Administration has classified vastly more documents than any of its predecessors. And let us put none too fine a point on it: classification of information is how we do censorship in America.

In keeping, the Obama Administration has been far more aggressive than any modern president, including Richard Nixon, in his efforts to muzzle the press. One of its new measures to cow the media has been to target leakers, and the journalists to whom they speak, with the Espionage Act.

This Real News Network report describes other strategies the Administration uses to turn news into propaganda. For instance:

JESSICA DESVARIEUX, D.C. CORRESPONDENT, TRNN: In the D.C. newsroom of McClatchy newspapers, White House correspondent Anita Kumar says covering the White House is becoming more and more challenging. Kumar, like all journalists in the White House press corps, has to file pool reports, which are reports of the president’s daily activities that go out to members of the White House press corps and thousands of others. But to get those reports out, the White House must distribute them.

ANITA KUMAR, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, MCCLATCHY NEWSPAPERS: –the White House, who actually distributes the pool reports, though they aren’t supposed to have any control over it, have actually asked people to change something in the reports. Now, that has happened to me one time that I can think of.

DESVARIEUX: That one time is related to President Obama taping an interview on The Jay Leno Show. Kumar said that she wrote about comments that the president made related to President Putin’s stance on gay rights. She was surprised to find that the White House told her to edit her work.

KUMAR: It was his first remarks about a situation with President Putin of Russia–not Ukraine; it was before that; but they have had some issues for a while now. And it was a pretty newsy interview with Jay Leno. And so I wrote up quite a lot, and I tried to be very fast, and I sent it out in a pool report, maybe more than one pool report. And I was actually told by someone at the White House that–it was sort of sent back to me, and said, you’ve written too much, and we need to cut back on that, or you need to cut back on that. And it made me very uncomfortable. And that’s just not the way to me it’s supposed to work, where they’re supposed to be telling me what I can put out and what I couldn’t put out.

Please watch this segment in full, and circulate it to friends and colleagues who may not appreciate the degree to which the press is controlled in the US. You can read the transcript here.

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  1. Peppsi

    Good video.

    I was going to write something silly about the imperial presidency, but something else came to me in light of his bristling at the notion of communicating with the press.

    Is Obama the ultimate technocrat? Others have a few points on him by not being elected, but Obama has functioned almost purely as a delegate of capital to operate the state to their benefit.

    Donors and wall street people get private meetings. The people get patronizing primetime tv speeches about how there is no alternative and some unilateral decisions had to be made.

    If the press ask follow up questions, the press secretary asks as if she literally was born yesterday and has no understanding or knowledge of anything.

    1. Brindle

      “delegate of capital” —nice phrase to in describing Obama.
      He is a front-man for Wall St, I think that is all he ever has aspired to be.

      “Others have a few points on him by not being elected, but Obama has functioned almost purely as a delegate of capital to operate the state to their benefit.”

  2. John

    Secrecy provides cover for incompetence, fraud, waste and abuse. This is a known process within the beltway crowd. Corporate media happily goes along with it. Get out of line and your access is cut.

  3. proximity1

    …”the press secretary acts as if she literally was born yesterday and has no understanding or knowledge of anything.”

    I’ve noticed that. The state department’s press-conference aides are so clueless and inept that I’ve cringed at their responses and almost felt sorry for them. But I really feel sorry for the press corps which has to deal with these people. I’ll be delighted to see the last of the pseudo-Democrats of the “Democratic Leadership Conference” ilk go down to their well-deserved defeat. These people are disgusting and the peons they hire to speak for them are moronic and amateurish.

    1. Larry

      I wish it were true that we’re seeing the last of the DLC candidates, but it isn’t. Hillary is in the batters circle after all.

    2. Benedict@Large

      The DLC has the money, and, like the hard right of the GOP, actively seeks to purge the party of anything to its left. The ONLY way the progressive left can defeat the DLC is to not play the lesser-evilism game with them. If that means the greater evil candidates get into office for a while, so be it. Otherwise, the progressive left might just as well fold up the tent, and take up knitting instead.

      1. Carla

        The point is, the so-called lesser evils are NOT less evil, just demonstrably more hypocritical. That’s the problem. IMO, we need to drop the whole LOTE trope. It perpetuates an unhealthy and untruthful dualism.

        1. Brindle

          Is Obama less evil than W. Bush? Most liberals/progressives would say of course he is, but if you look their actions you can see that other than starting the Iraq Invasion they are very similar.
          Obama’s difference from Bush is to a large degree cultural. Obama can sing Al Green where Bush might try Toby Keith. Obama can talk in complete sentences, Bush not so much.
          Liberals like Chris Hayes and Joan Walsh are giddy in recounting Obama’s cultural attributes.

          1. fresno dan

            One could make the argument that Obama is worse than Bush, as Obama has consolidated and expanded the shrinkage of civil liberties and the expansion of the war/security state and made the absolute impunity of wall street a democratic policy.
            So much for the loyal opposition. But it is a function of life in the US that people buy the idea that the “two” parties are diametrically opposed, when in fact they agree 100% on corruption and all war all the time….

          2. neo-realist

            There are a few degrees between Obama and Bush—-You’d never get vicious hard righties of the likes of Roberts and Alito on the SC from Obama who would go so far as to slap down the voting rights act and question the existence of racism in America. I’m not saying you could get a Thurgood Marshall from Obama, but nobody as extreme right as Bush has proposed for the courts. Where Bush was proactively hostile toward civil rights and justice for POC, Obama is more mushy middle status quo.

    1. Jim Haygood

      Doubly so when they have a hinky past. Thus his suppressed college records, while Obama was a ‘ghost student’ at Columbia (probably with the Agency footing the tuition), and his crudely-forged birth certificate with nine heavily doctored layers in the Illustrator file released by the White House. This guy is a ringer.

  4. frosty zoom

    At the $15,000 per plate fundraiser, Paltrow said, “It would be wonderful if we were able to give this man all of the power that he needs to pass the things that he needs to pass.” This is a very dangerous train of thought, to say the least, and a phrase every lover of true liberty should pay attention to. For starters, does anyone see the mention of “the American people” in that sentence? No, what we see is mention only of this man, that being President Obama. It appears that what the American people want is irrelevant in the light of what the Great Father wants. Not only that, but his star-studded entourage, evidently, fully supports giving dictatorial power to the Great Father. How can it be otherwise interpreted?

    1. peppsi

      The imperial presidency ship has already sailed. The US flag is on the tail of drones and bombers attacking someone in Syria right now, but I don’t remember any senate vote about it. The decider decided. If we don’t like it then we’re just terrorists or sore losers.

  5. Danb

    As if there is no accumulated damage, George Condon “isn’t concerned” because each successive president since Nixon has been more restrictive on the press than previous presidents. The perfect example of a jaded DC journalist.

  6. Chauncey Gardiner

    Thank you for this piece. This Administration’s disregard for the first amendment of the Constitution and attempts to undermine investigative journalism and a free press is outrageous! The secrecy classification schemes need to be gutted. Who’s government is this?

  7. TarheelDem

    A White House press corps that was Clinton’s nemesis (for all the wrong reasons, skipping the right ones) and Bush’s lapdog gets no sympathy from me when they whine about someone asking them the trim the length of a story about a Jay Leno interview with the President. That’s their transparency issue!

    The White House communications operation, in contrast to the original campaign communications operation in 2008, has been a rolling catastrophe for President Obama. It’s not clear from the outside whether that’s due to micromanagement, lack of supervision, or mistaking Obama’s “no drama” mandate, but they have been awful for over six years. But that sort of PR, for that is what it always was, has little to do with the problem of transparency.

    In fact, inadvertently the Obama administration has become the most de facto transparent administration since that of Richard Nixon. With the least media support to enabling that transparency. The revelations of Wikileaks, Chelsea Manning, and Edward Snowden, among others, have provided breathtaking views into the operation and abuse of US national security and intelligence community activities. The death of Ambassador Stevens in Benghazi has been one of the most scrutinized events since the assassination of JFK or the 9/11 attacks. Thanks to the White House providing its visitor lists, we know exactly who lobbied the Obamacare bill and the attack on Social Security. And we also know that Wellpoint drafted the bulk of the Obamacare legislation sitting in Max Baucus office and on the federal payroll. Livecasting of the early Obamacare markup hearings in the House Committees showed the spectacle of Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) arguing to get community clinic formulas done in such a way that would benefit Tennessee for a bill she had no intentions of voting for because the GOP caucus had already decided on a brick wall strategy to defeat President Obama’s chances for a second term.

    But when it came to these substantial bits of transparency, the media complaining about the Jay Leno interview edit (the interview likely is available as a transcript) were MIA. And when they did cover these glimpses into the way DC works, they completely missed the point and transparently show their own political agendas, their own propensity to put their fingers on the scales of reporting to obtain certain political effects decided individually or collective by them, the elite White House press corps. Helen Thomas was the last journalist to understand how the White House press corps show push for facts and transparency, and the current whiners scapegoated her and sacrificed her career to avoid the comparison.

    1. Peppsi

      The white house asks them to edit copy about Jay Leno. If it really upsets them, you go to fucking jail.

  8. Fuzz T Was

    What was the President’s GPA in college and law school? What fraternities or clubs did he join? He won’t tell us. George Bush, Bill Clinton and other President have allowed (or they leaked out) their college records to be public but Obama hasn’t. Why?

    At law school, he was President of the prestigious Harvard Law Review. What scholarly academic papers did he write? I might like to read them but I can’t because, if they exist, they’re hidden from view. Are they some kind of sacred gospels to be sheltered from the “great unwashed?”

    His book, Dreams from My Father, a supposed auto-biography, is apparently a lot of fiction and little fact? David Maraniss’s book, Barack Obama: The Story presents, “38 instances” where the evidence contradicts “significant elements of Obama’s life story and family history. The White House has admitted parts were made up. Some claim Bill Ayers was the ghost writer of that book. On several public occasions, Ayers, in a toying manner, implied he wrote the book. The question is, did he or didn’t he?

    For 16 years his literary agent said he was born in Kenya, then (whoops!) he was born in Hawaii. The Kenya claim was a fact checking error. A FACT CHECKING ERROR that lasted 16 years through several edits and updates. Note the error was opportunely corrected when Obama started running for President.

    Maybe someone in the lame-stream media should question Obama about these anomalies, but they won‘t. They are as compliant as pizza dough. They’re afraid to say anything negative about the first Black President because they might be called RACIST. Then there is that liberal White privilege and historical guilt issue lefty journalist just can’t get past.

    1. James Levy

      You missed the forest for the trees. Obama is a kindler, gentler George Dubya and the best friend Wall Street ever had. He talks about the environment while it is being raped. He talks about health care while handing massive subsidies to the HMOs and Big Pharma. He is desperate to make a “grand bargain” with the Republicans to sell Medicare and Social Security recipients down the river. You are dealing with a person who is demonstrably to the Right of Richard Nixon. Please pay less attention to the color of his skin and more to his actions.

  9. Globus Pallidus XI

    Yes, the Obama administration is certainly heavy-handed about secrecy and controlling the press. That’s true.

    But the bigger picture is that the press is controlled, not so much by Obama, as by the rich, who mostly own it outright. Bad press of Obama is not primarily kept down by the actions of the Obama administration, as by the owners of the mass media who like what Obama is doing.

    For example: the enterovirus D68, although rare in the United States, has been endemic in Central America. Shortly after Obama allowed tends of thousands of accompanied (not a typo) illegal immigrant children from Central America to enter the United States and be placed in communities and schools around the nation without health screenings, there was suddenly an outbreak of this virus in American children. Possibly this is a coincidence. But why is there ZERO mention of this possibility in effectively ANY mainstream publication? Look at the comments sections following these articles: people are screaming for the issue to at least be considered, but the press refuses to breathe a word about it. I imagine any reporter even hinting at such a thing would be fired and blacklisted on the spot.

    And of course Obama has let Liberian nationals come here freely and it causes an infection in an innocent US healthcare worker – and Obama is not called to account. We could have a full-on plague and there would be ZERO public criticism of Obama’s policies to this end.

    As far as Obama’s popularity rating, well, he just doesn’t care. Why should he? His popularity is no longer relevant to him. All that matters now is that there be no organized public opposition to his policies. Hence the stream of mindless drivel in the press that is, in effect, skew to reality, so that people cannot intelligently unite in opposition.

  10. Alan

    So who in journalism really thinks submitting stories to a whitehouse “pool” is the way to independent release of facts”. Shouldn’t it be the other way around? Don’t journalists report independent of the White House and try to expose the workings of government? Watch that old Classic Colbert speech at the White House press dinner from a few years back where he skewered them for failing to think on their own. Journalists have to rethink their complicity with crony capitalism, and should have a long time ago cut the cord. To send out reports, the “White House must distribute them”???? Who thinks this is journalism?

  11. kimsarah

    Jury, judge and executioner. What more could a democracy expect from their president?
    Can’t wait to see Hillary in action. Talk about a vindictive control freak who keeps black book notes on everybody.

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