The White House Press Office has refused to give the Boston Herald full access to President Obama’s Boston fund-raiser today, in e-mails objecting to the newspaper’s front page placement of a Mitt Romney op-ed, saying pool reporters are chosen based on whether they cover the news “fairly.”
“I tend to consider the degree to which papers have demonstrated to covering the White House regularly and fairly in determining local pool reporters,” White House spokesman Matt Lehrich wrote in response to a Herald request for full access to the presidential visit.
“My point about the op-ed was not that you ran it but that it was the full front page, which excluded any coverage of the visit of a sitting US President to Boston. I think that raises a fair question about whether the paper is unbiased in its coverage of the President’s visits,” Lehrich wrote.
But Lehrich said the Herald wasn’t purposefully barred from the press pool, saying local pool duty by the Boston Globe was arranged earlier with the White House Correspondents Association. And Lehrich insisted the Herald may yet be allowed into Obama events.
“As we have in the past – including the multiple occasions on which the Herald has supplied local pool reporters – we will continue to consider the Herald for local pool duty for future visits,” Lehrich wrote.
Obama is in town today to raise money for his 2012 re-election campaign. His afternoon speech in the South End’s Cyclorama is open to all media, but only a selected pool can attend other aspects of his fund-raiser. Pool reporters must share all their material with other press. The Herald has been bypassed for pool duty during Obama’s last two visits despite asking the White House to be the local pool reporter.
“Newspapers don’t have to be unbiased to get access. You can’t just let only the newspapers you want in,” said Boston University journalism professor Fred Bayles.
Romney spokesman Eric Fehrnstrom defended Romney’s March 8 opinion piece:
“That op-ed was about jobs, which apparently is a sensitive subject for the thin-skinned people around the president. The White House may be able to manipulate pool coverage, but they can’t manipulate the fact that millions of Americans are out of work because of President Obama’s failure to create jobs and get our economy moving,” Fehrnstrom said in a statement yesterday.
The administration has a history of controversial clashes with the press.
The White House was seen to be at war with Fox News early in the administration, with its communications director calling Fox an “arm” of the Republican Party, while the president avoided Fox interviews until his health reform proposal ran into trouble. Since losing control of Congress, Obama has sat down with conservative Fox commentator Bill O’Reilly.
In April 2010, Bloomberg’s Ed Chen, president of the White House Correspondent’s Association, met with then-Press Secretary Robert Gibbs to hash out complaints about limitations on the press, saying, “In my 10-plus years at the White House, rarely have I sensed such a level of anger … over White House practices and attitudes toward the press.”
Last month, a San Francisco Chronicle editor reported the White House threatened to bar Hearst reporters from pool duty after a Chronicle reporter shot video of protestors mocking Obama at a fund-raiser.
Glenn Reynolds, a University of Tennessee law professor who has followed White House-press relations at right-leaning Instapundit.com, said a pattern appears to be developing.
“It’s all about control,” Reynolds said. “At some point this will blow back on them. Most presidents behave in a more refined fashion. Experience has shown that acting presidential is good politics and to their advantage.”