A new piece released yesterday by media reporter Paul Farhi of The Washington Post sheds a bit of light on the media relations strategy practiced by one of the world’s most important sources of information: The White House.
In short, members of the Obama administration’s press team prefer to play an active role in shaping the narrative…even when that narrative is not the one heard by the public at large.
The content addressed in the article is White House press reports, or the summaries prepared for reporters by other reporters. Turns out that press aides often reach out to those responsible to ask for changes before the reports are distributed to the hundreds of other journalists who cover goings-on at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
The story provides a fascinating glimpse into the way White House press coverage works for those who don’t know: correspondents from major pubs are chosen “on a rotating basis” to write summaries of official movements/announcements for the rest of the pool.
Before these reports go out to the public, they go back to the White House press team, which often requests and receives what The Washington Post describes as changes related to “mostly trivial issues and minor matters of fact.”
Here’s an example concerning President Obama’s appearance on The Tonight Show:
“…press staffers objected to the length of her file, saying it violated an agreement with the program’s producers to limit advance publicity.”
They also objected to a different reporter’s inclusion of an anecdote about Obama taking a cupcake to a veteran reporter about to leave the White House beat. According to the article, former Press Secretary Jay Carney even stepped in to prevent the dissemination of a report about Michelle Obama working out at a hotel gym somewhere in Asia.
While we agree that this detail is insignificant, the report paints a picture of a team obsessed with getting every single detail right. You might even say they often miss the forest for the trees.
Journalists understandably don’t like this trend, and The White House Correspondents Association has even discussed ending the standard press pool practice.
At any rate, it’s a fascinating read — and a good counter to your uncle’s Thanksgiving argument that all members of the press have a chummy relationship with The White House press team.
Far from it.