Obama's spin doctor bruises hacks with 'nastygrams'

Jay Carney's combative approach has led to formal complaints about profane language

Los Angeles

He is no Alastair Campbell.

Neither is he in quite the same league as C J Cregg, the gruff, no-nonsense spin doctor from The West Wing. But a growing proportion of White House news correspondents are starting to discover that you cross swords with Jay Carney at your peril.

Mr Carney, who became Barack Obama's press secretary in February, has taken such a combative approach to media management that senior members of the presidential press pool recently called a crisis meeting to demand that he soften his tone.

At the centre of their complaints, according to The Washington Post, are so-called "nastygrams", aggressive, critical emails sent with growing frequency by Mr Carney and his staff.

Some of the more delicate members of the press have also been upset by profane language with which they are increasingly upbraided over the telephone by government spin doctors. Their concerns were formally raised at a meeting in November between the White House Correspondents Association [WHCA] and Mr Carney's office.

According to the WHCA president, Caren Bohan, who is a reporter for Reuters, the meeting was held to discuss a series of "tense interactions" between the two sides. Several reporters interviewed by the Post claimed that the nature of official communications has become more hostile under Mr Carney.

Among them was Carl Cannon, the Washington editor of the Real Clear Politics website. He described the official reaction to his article about Mr Obama's use of the White House for his party's political fundraisers as: "a screaming, profane diatribe that lasted two or three phone calls." The incident convinced him that Mr Obama's media managers "either favour you or try to punish you, depending if they see you as friend or foe".

Julie Mason, a radio reporter, said Mr Carney used an email to brand one of her stories "partisan, inflammatory and tendentious". One of his colleagues sent her an animated picture of a crying mime artist, apparently to suggest she was whining.

Tensions in the White House press room are historically allowed to remain below the radar and the US media generally has a far less adversarial relationship with government spokesmen than their counterparts in the UK. Mr Carney told the Post that he has "good, very cordial" relations with reporters. He also attempted to deny that his occasionally fraught dealings with the Fourth Estate were worthy of coverage. "Where have you been?" he asked. "You're kind of discovering that the wheel is round here."

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