Politics

02.19.13

The White House and the Press Corps

This big kerfuffle reflects poorly on both sides and reveals two interesting realities of Washington journalism as it's currently practiced, realities that coexist to some degree in tension with each other:

Reality 1 is that it's true that White House reporters as a rule are vain and whiny and focus on trivia and minutaie.

Reality 2 is that in a sense the above is understandable because it's a really monotonous job that does weird things to a person's brain.

I of course have never held the job, but it can't be so different from covering campaigns at close quarters, which I have done. It ain't the salt mines or a shoe factory, but it's deadly dull. You have no space, no privacy. You spend hours and hours sitting or standing around waiting for something to happen. You are reduced to following the story of the day, even if it's completely insipid, because that's what everyone else is following and it's what your editor will want. You quickly become bored by and contemptuous of everyone, up to the president himself.

In the present case, it would be my strong guess that what's driving the current complaints in emotional terms is that these reporters had a chance to alleviate the suffocating tedium of their jobs by laying their eyes on one of the world's most famous men, only to be denied that chance. I mean, wouldn't you be pissed if you'd had a shot at seeing Tiger Woods smash a drive 375 yards from up close and personal, but you weren't allowed? What's a press pass good for then?

Presidents don't let reporters watch them play golf for a very good reason. Golf is damn hard, and it's easy to look stupid. In just the short clip I saw yesterday of Obama at the driving range, I thought: Man, he is not staying down on the ball at all. Look at him yank those shoulders up. Do I look like that?

If I ran a big paper, I don't think I'd have anyone at the White House. Or I'd switch them out every six months before they went mad. The reporters covering the executive agencies as a rule are more substantive, less inclined toward gotcha! stuff. And if I ran the White House press operation, I would understand that if the Potus were hanging with someone truly world famous, I'd have to let the press meet that person, whether it's Tiger or McCartney or Ali or what have you.