As of now, I am in control here, in the White House

Tag Archives: White House press corps

Chuck Todd Takes Over Meet the Press

I hope I’m wrong, but I’m not sure NBC White House Correspondent Chuck Todd is the right choice to host Meet the Press.

Todd, as you probably know, will replace David Gregory. I’ve worked with both during their stints as White House reporters.

This is why Tim Russert succeeded so well on Meet the Press: He was smart, affable, sunny, knowledgable, passionate about politics, and without losing the cherubic look on his face, could slowly rip the intestines out of his guests.

Chuck has everything but the last quality. Maybe he can develop it.

At the White House, Chuck is a good questioner, standing out among mediocre inquisitors in the room. But he lacks the instinct to really carve up the press secretary.

Media reporter Dylan Byers put it well today in Politico:

Todd is well known for his analytical skills, his grasp of data and historical knowledge, but rattling off stats about House districts is not the same skill set as grilling evasive high-ranking politicians and officials on the issues of the day.

Viewers expect more than political trivia from Sunday morning shows — they want a program that goes beyond the recitation of familiar talking points, network execs believe. Americans already believe that the political press corps is too cozy with the politicians it covers. They are hungry for someone who can hold their guests’ feet to the fire, they say.

NBC would have done better perhaps to try to purloin from CNN Jake Tapper, who has that likable but tough quality of Russert’s. Ed Henry of Fox News has a similar ability as Russert to project a friendly countenance while implacably pressing for a serious answer. And Jonathan Karl has proven himself a relentless cross examiner in the White House briefing room.

Perhaps the best replacement of all is, tragically, dead. David Bloom, the NBC White House correspondent who perished in 2003 covering the Iraq war, was the best questioner I ever saw in the briefing room. He didn’t let the smooth talking Clinton White House Press Secretary Mike McCurry get away with anything.

chuck toddIt’s real hard to feel sorry for David Gregory. He was reportedly unpopular at NBC, at it’s not surprising. In the limited amount of contact we had at the White House, he was always friendly, but his behavior generally was atrocious. He gave no heed to the other reporters in the room, hogging the floor.

If we were questioning someone at the mikes on the West Wing driveway who had just met with the president, he’d show up and then it was, David Gregory’s here, everyone shut up while I ask my questions. There are ways to be aggressive without being obnoxious.

Still, I admired his tenaciousness and his commitment to the essential function of journalism, making the powerful tell the truth. I actually thought he was a good choice for Meet the Press.

Todd is, as they say, exactly the same in person as you see on TV. He has a disarming genuineness and knowledge not just of the political scene, but the motivations of the actors.

But his first responsibility as host must not be playing footsie with other Washington types, but holding their feet to the fire. It’s his duty. I hope he succeeds, because our politicians need accountability, not chumminess.

Obama to Take Remakes

Ah, the perils of iPhone autocorrect.

From Martha’s Vineyard, a pool report today by Katie Zezima of the Washington Post:

President Obama just completed a statement on the situation in Iraq (report to come very shortly). At 5:24 we are rolling toward a fundraiser at a private residence where the president will take remakes.

I assume that’s make remarks.

We of course never make any such mistakes here at White House Dossier, as my regular readers can attest.




Look! Obama’s Working!

There seems to be an effort afoot at the White House to demonstrate to the world that President Obama, who has now been getting flack even from the mainstream press for being disengaged – me and you have been wondering where he’s been for some time – in fact DOES SHOW UP FOR WORK.

In the strangest “pool spray” I’ve ever seen, the pool reporters were escorted to the windows of the Oval Office to bear witness to the fact that the president is on the phone.

From the pool report:

At 11:18 am, the pool was brought to the windows outside the Oval Office for a photo spray. It lasted 10 seconds.

We spotted the president sitting at his desk, talking on the phone – his left hand to his left ear. He briefly fiddled with his pen. Several aides were sitting on the couches. The pool has requested a list but the pool did spot Tony Blinken, deputy national security adviser.

From the WH:

“The President speaks with His Majesty King Abdullah II of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. A formal readout will be provided later today.”

We were obviously not able to ask any questions of the president.

We have a lunch lid.

NEWSFLASH: We spotted the president sitting at his desk, talking on the phone – his left hand to his left ear. He briefly fiddled with his pen.

Here are your brave White House journalists gathering the news.

photogs Oval

Not exactly Gaza duty, is it?

Et voilà, the result, last night on the homepage of the New York Times website:

Obama on phone

There he is, not a golf club in sight. Even wearing his jacket in the Oval, which I don’t think he normally does.

And while I previously thought Obama was going to return from Martha’s Vineyard for a couple of days of “meetings” – before returning to his vacation – because something serious was going on, I’m now thinking nothing serious is going on at all!

During Thursday’s White House briefing, CBS correspondent Mark Knoller raised the possibility with White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest that that Obama’s White House stop might have something to do with skepticism about the wisdom of taking a two week vacation while the world is falling apart:

KNOLLER:  Josh, you said you couldn’t say who President Obama would be meeting with when he returns during the middle of his Martha’s Vineyard trip.  Can you say what the subjects of those meetings might be?

MR. EARNEST:  I can’t at this point, but you can check back next week and we’ll see if we can provide you some additional insight into those meetings.

KNOLLER:  Does he just want to meet with somebody?  (Laughter.)

MR. EARNEST:  Presumably if he just wanted to meet with somebody he could probably find people in Martha’s Vineyard who would meet with him.  But this is an opportunity for the President to meet with some of his White House staff who will be remaining in Washington, and it will be an opportunity for him to consult with them in person.

KNOLLER:  Does it address or reflect a sensitivity about the optics of a two-week vacation?

MR. EARNEST:  It does not.  There have been questions raised by some of our critics about the optics of two- and three-day travel.

I would assume that Earnest is not saying whom Obama will be meeting with because neither he nor Obama have any idea whom he will be meeting with.

But as Knoller put, he will be meeting with somebody.

WH Press Corps Protests Blocked Access

The White House press corps today formally protested a White House decision to bar reporters from an event featuring President Obama and the surviving members of the Apollo 11 moon mission, a gathering that would have naturally lent itself to wide coverage.

Obama met with Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins to mark the 45th anniversary of the mission. Neil Armstrong died in 2012.

The protest was lodged by Major Garrett of CBS, who is an officer of the White House Correspondents’ Association.

White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said the problem was that Obama “has a very busy schedule.”

Really? A busy schedule? This president?

ABC White House reporter Jonathan Karl smelled a rat.

“Couldn’t he have been maybe five minutes later for the fundraiser out in Seattle?” Karl wondered, referring to Obama’s trip out West today. “I find that explanation a little hard to believe.”

By which he meant it was a lot hard to believe. The press corps gets shoveled in and out of these events and it takes no more than a few minutes.

Earnest disingenuously threw in a jibe – right out of the Jay Carney playbook – about the press corps complaining it didn’t get enough time during such events, known as “pool sprays.” Karl responded that the complaints centered on getting “a couple of minutes” instead of a few seconds to see the president.

Karl posited another explanation:

“Is it because some of those Apollo astronauts, including Neil Armstrong, shortly before he  died, going to Congress – was very critical of this president for the way he has handled the space program?”

Earnest was appalled. “Absolutely not!” he said.

Video || Earnest Gets Roughed Up at His First Briefing

White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest got taken to task today by the White House press corps for failing to reveal, until asked about it, a call between President Obama and Russian President Putin.

Earnest was asked at the end of the briefing about a report that the two presidents had spoken about Ukraine. That would be correct, Earnest confirmed. And then the problems began.

Looks like Josh got his feelings hurt a little bit. But at least he has feelings. His superiors in the Obama White House will soon take care of that.

I have to say though, it appears Josh is right on this one, assuming Putin and Obama didn’t talk about Iraq. Earnest had said earlier in the briefing he had no calls to read out about Iraq, and Putin and Obama are said to have discussed Ukraine.

There may be good diplomatic reasons why the White House would not want to proactively reveal the call. So Josh gets a pass on this one.

Video || Creating Obama One Photo at a Time

I thought you might want to see this excellent mini-documentary by ReasonTV revealing how the White House uses photography to craft President Obama’s image, employing Canon-wielding propagandist Pete Souza instead of the White House press corps to present the president to the public.

In the video, news image analyst Michael Shaw, publisher of, describes how important the exclusion of press photographers is to the White House and how effectively Obama’s public relations outfit uses social media to disseminate the desired image – literally and figuratively – of the president.

Shaw explains something I’ve never completely understood – Obama’s constant appearances in the presence of celebrities. Shaw asserts that by situating Obama within the popular culture, his advisors successfully erased the sense of unfamiliarity and even strangeness about a man who was very different from previous presidents – an African American whose middle name was Hussein and whose birthplace was in question among some.

I would add that Obama’s image gurus made someone whose political views were way far to the left of most Americans seem comfortably part of the American mainstream.

And, “the press was eating it up,” Shaw said. Only recently have reporters begun seriously insisting on more “access.”

The White House Press Corps poll

Politico recently published its poll of White House reporters. It’s not scientific – not every White House reporter responded.

Anyway, here are the fun facts.

The average White House reporter is 48 years old, has been on the White House beat for 12 years, and has been a journalist for about 20-30 years.

Screen Shot 2014-05-09 at 11.21.57 AMWhite House reporters don’t consider the briefings particularly useful, but most of them go at least once a week. Half say they go just about every day.

Two thirds file stories multiple times a day, and more than half say this is more often than five years ago.

More than half have never had an exclusive interview with President Obama, and 50 percent don’t think he knows their name. Asked how often they had an interview in the past week with someone outside the press office, 53 percent said they hadn’t.

Thirty nine percent say they have been sworn at by a White House official. Fifty percent say they’ve been lied to.

Given a choice between the Obama and Bush White Houses, 41 percent said Bush’s was more forthcoming with information, while only 5 percent said Obama’s and just 13 percent said it was about the same. Forty two percent agree with a statement by a New York Times editor who said the Obama White House is the most secretive they’ve covered.

And, in a self-congratulatory mood, 68 percent said Obama gets the coverage he deserves, while only a quarter said he gets better than he deserves.

I participated in the survey. Here is a link to the survey and my answers to all the questions, including those reporters were permitted to answer without attribution.

Below are my answers to questions that required some explaining. These also happened to be the on-the-record questions.

What most people don’t know about covering the White House is . . . 

Even though you are physically within the White House, you are not that much more privy to inside information than someone in Oregon.

The best way to get information out of this White House is… By speaking with the people they talk to on Capitol Hill and in various organizations who may be disloyal and reveal good stuff. White House officials are never disloyal to the president and will only give you good information if it serves the president’s purposes.

If I could get the Obama White House to change one thing, it would be. . . 

Stop beating up on reporters for writing perfectly legitimate stories that happen to reflect negatively on Obama. Not only does this chill freedom of the press and free speech by trying to get inside reporters’ heads, but it decreases the credibility of the White House because the practice is essentially dishonest. That is, the anger is partially or wholly manufactured and the claim of unfairness in a story is often knowingly false.

When President Obama calls this the “most transparent administration in history,” my reaction is . . . 

The history of which country?

The best White House press secretary I’ve worked with is . . . because . . . 

It depends on what you mean by “best White House press secretary.” Best for the White House or best for the press?

The best press secretary for the White House I’ve worked with was Mike McCurry. He understood reporters, knew how to feed them information they wanted and get them hooked on the practice, charmed them, ran entertaining briefings even while giving out little serious information, and gave the impression of irony – something reporters lap up – while actually working tirelessly for the boss and hitting reporters hard when he needed to.

With respect to the press, Dana Perino was the best press secretary. Dana actually respected reporters and tried to give them straight answers – to the extent the job allows – and useful information, both in the briefing room and behind the scenes. She gave fast, concise responses during the briefing so that more reporters got a chance and the thing didn’t drag on endlessly. There was access to senior officials. This is not to say she wasn’t completely loyal to Bush and down with his program, just that she took reporters seriously.

One hundred years from now, White House reporters will . . . 

be able to work while asleep.

Not that I’d mind working while asleep. Because, truly, I enjoy it.

It’s a great privilege, and so I believe it comes with great obligations. That’s one reason I started a website devoted to holding the White House accountable.

There are some good reporters at the White House, but I wish more took the job of accountability seriously. I’m sure that once a Republican gets in, more will.

Saudis: The Jew Stays Out

Saudi Arabia is denying a visa to a Jewish member of the White House press corps to cover President Obama’s visit. Michael Wilner, a reporter for the Jerusalem Post, said in a statement he had  “little doubt that my access was denied either because of my media affiliation or because of my religion.” Wilner is an… Continue Reading

“Openness” White House Dismisses Press Access Concerns

White House Deputy Press Secretary Josh Earnest dismissed White House press corps concerns about the access of news photographers to President Obama, seeking to justify the use of official White House photographers to capture certain events instead. With the press barred, Obama’s photographers release their idealized propaganda shots directly to the public, placing their work… Continue Reading