Obama Administration

Most Transparent Administration Ever Demands Edits to Reports Filed by White House Press Pool

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Whitehouse.gov

One of the ongoing sub-narratives of the Obama administration is how incredibly unfriendly it has been to the press.

Former New York Times Executive Editor Jill Abramson described the Obama White House as "the most secretive White House that I have ever been involved in covering," specifically noting her time covering Reagan and George W. Bush.

Times national security reporter James Risen said earlier this year that the current administration was "the greatest enemy of press freedom that we have encountered in at least a generation," and suggested that the administration threatens reporters who do not pursue acceptable stories. 

Reporters should feel threatened by the administration's behavior. The administration has captured phone logs from Associated Press reporters, and tracked calls, emails, and location information about a senior Fox News reporter. It's pursued a record number of criminal leak investigations. 

And, according to The Washington Post, it has also sought to edit pool reports from White House press.

Journalists who cover the White House say Obama's press aides have demanded — and received — changes in press-pool reports before the reports have been disseminated to other journalists. They say the White House has used its unusual role as the distributor of the reports as leverage to steer coverage in a more favorable direction.

The disputed episodes involve mostly trivial issues and minor matters of fact. But that the White House has become involved at all represents a troubling trend for journalists and has prompted their main representative, the White House Correspondents' Association, to consider revising its approach to pool reporting.

The incidents noted in the story are generally pretty trivial: One reporter was asked to remove a mention of Michelle Obama's workout, another to delete details of Obama presenting a longtime reporter with a candle-lit dessert on her final trip with the president, another to delete an early account of an Obama appearance on "The Tonight Show" because the White House believed it violated a publicity deal with the show. (Somehow I doubt the reporter had a similar agreement.)

But even minor attempts to alter pool reports should be taken seriously. The White House has no right to change the reports, no right to edit or interfere with the work of independent journalists before publication. 

And the White House has also pushed at least one reporter to change his story in order to remove an unflattering comparison of two Obama events. Back to the Post:

During the same trip, then-deputy press secretary Josh Earnest flagged another of [Post reporter David] Nakamura's reports. This one contained a comment juxtaposing a speech Obama had given two days earlier lauding freedom of the press with the administration's decision to limit access to presidential photo ops on the trip.

Earnest, who succeeded Carney as press secretary in May, considered Nakamura's comparison unfair and asked him to take it out, according to Nakamura. After an argument, the reporter acquiesced.

It's almost too perfect: The Obama administration doesn't like being portrayed as unfriendly to the press, so its press office decides to stop a journalist from suggesting in a report that it is.