A Friday afternoon report at Politico brings news of another “historic” moment in the Obama presidency, which promised “transparency” but has transformed much of American government into a riddle, wrapped in mystery, inside an enigma:
Because inauguration day falls on a Sunday in 2013, Chief Justice John Roberts will officially administer the official oath of office in a private ceremony that day. The public inauguration on the Capitol Building???s West Front ??? at which Roberts will administer a second, symbolic oath of office ??? will take place the next day.
In early meetings with the inaugural committee, officials privately indicated to reporters that the Jan. 20 event could be closed to reporters and cameras, with an official photograph supplied to press by White House photographer Pete Souza, sources familiar with the meeting told POLITICO.
(Emphasis mine.) The White House, not very reassuringly, clarified that when it said “private inauguration” in its press releases, it meant that the event would not be open to the public, while “press arrangements have not been formalized.”
That’s not exactly the “Of course we’ll be open to the press!” clarification that media organizations were looking for. Everyone from Ed Henry of Fox News (who is also president of the White House Correspendents Association) to a “shell-shocked” Chuck Todd of NBC News urged the White House to ensure press access to the event. “This is not their oath, this is the constitutional oath,” said Todd. “It???s not for them. It???s for the public, the citizens of the United Sates. It just boggles the mind. How is this even a debate?”
Well, Mr. Todd, I can venture two guesses as to why press access to Obama’s second oath of office might be debatable. Politico alludes to one of them in its story, recalling that the President “stumbled through the public swearing-in” back in 2009, and “had to hold a second, private swearing-in the following day.” Perhaps Obama – who knows full well that media anger with him will be short-lived, and might even sound petulant to a public that doesn’t hold the media in very high esteem – feels the momentary annoyance of a private oath of office will carry less risk of tarnishing his image than another widely-publicized stumble.
Or maybe the White House was planning on inviting some guests to witness the oath of office, and doesn’t want them to receive a lot of press coverage. Obama doesn’t really want his top fat-cat donors and cronies getting a lot of media coverage while he’s firing class-warfare artillery to support his tax hike demands. (Those demands will not end with whatever “fiscal cliff” deal might be reached in the coming days.) It wouldn’t be helpful, at this juncture, to remind the public what this President tends to do with large amounts of money, or how much of it ends up right back in the hands of super-rich people, who just happen to have the correct Party affiliation.
It’s hard to imagine any other reason the White House would contemplate denying the press access to Obama’s second oath of office – sheer arrogance, coupled with a morbid curiousity to see how hard he can backhand the press before they actually do get mad at him? As Politico notes, the previous Sunday oath of office was Ronald Reagan’s second, in 1985, and press coverage was allowed. The current crisis is, at the moment, based on chatter from aides and pre-emptive anger from reporters; we’ll have to wait for the formal announcement to see if the White House relents and allows normal press coverage in the end.