Sometimes a scandal-plagued President has to take a few minutes out of his busy day to make sure his loyal friends in the media still have his back. According to Buzzfeed, that’s what happened on Monday:
President Obama held an off-the-record meeting with select reporters from some of the nation???s largest print and online outlets Monday, in the White House???s latest effort to placate an increasingly restive press corps.
White House officials regularly meet with reporters for so-called ???background briefing sessions,??? where the attendees cannot be mentioned by name nor quoted directly, but Monday???s meeting was different. Initially billed as a conversation with White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough, the president made a surprise appearance ??? a very unusual move ??? and the White House placed the proceedings off the record beforehand. The meeting came amid a series of scandals crashing over the White House that has placed the administration on defense in a way it hasn???t been until now.
Formally scheduling closed-door meetings with Eric Holder to manage press coverage didn’t work – the media was genuinely angry with President Boyfriend over the AP/Fox News crackdowns, and could hardly afford the optics of marching into secret off-the-record training sessions with the Attorney General. Plan B was to hustle reporters from a select group of top news organizations into a more run-of-the-mill briefing by lesser officials, then bring Obama into the room after the doors were locked.
Reporters who attended Monday???s session with the president were loathe to discuss it with BuzzFeed, citing the White House???s stipulation that the meeting remain off the record. But the session came after the White House announced a ???travel/photo lid??? for the day ??? White House parlance for no more events, and the signal for the pool reporter to go home ??? and reporters from The New York Times, Washington Post, Huffington Post, Time, McClatchy, Politico, Tribune, NPR, Bloomberg, USA Today, AFP, Yahoo and other outlets were milling around the briefing room waiting to be called in. In total, about two dozen reporters were included. (BuzzFeed was not invited to the meeting, although a reporter, who did not know the president would be present, requested to be included.)
New York Times White House reporter Peter Baker said reporters had not been told that Obama would be in the session, and that if he had known, he and his editors would have reconsidered whether to attend.
???If we had, I think we would have had a conversation here in our office first about whether to attend or not. We tend to evaluate these on a case-by-case basis,??? Baker told BuzzFeed. ???Our concern about off-the-record sessions with the president is that they not become substitutes for opportunities to ask questions and get answers on the record, which after all is our job.???
It’s kind of cute that they still pretend that’s their “job,” especially after they let Obama slide without facing questions from the press throughout most of the 2012 campaign. The notion of “off-the-record press briefings” seems like an oxymoron to those outside the media guild. It’s especially inappropriate at this juncture, when the President is surrounded by so many controversies surrounding the accumulation of information about American citizens, coupled with the suppression and distortion of information we receive about the super-State that supposedly works for us.