It took a while, but Barack Obama's honeymoon is definitely over

Out of America: Noses among the Washington press corps are out of joint. There will be a price to pay

Share

It's taken more than four years, but the honeymoon is officially over. Ever since he was elected, Republicans have claimed that the "mainstream media" they so despise have been hopelessly and irredeemably seduced by President Obama. They had a point. But this judgement now finally requires correcting.

"The President does not particularly like the Washington press corps," David Gregory, host of NBC's Meet the Press, the most venerable and watched of the Sunday political talk shows here, admitted the other day. And, he added, in a lot of respects, "that feeling is mutual".

Shocking words for those who believe that fawning media adulation has, for far too long, given Obama a free ride. In fact, however, tensions have been evident for a good while – albeit mostly in circumlocutory complaints about Obama's "aloof" and "remote" style, his silky disdain, his lack of a personal touch. Now a couple of events have brought them into the open.

The first was a curious spat between the White House and the journalist Bob Woodward, of Watergate fame. It all started with a Woodward article in The Washington Post to the effect that the sequester, the much-reviled federal spending cuts which have just come into force here, was an idea dreamt up by the White House.

Not so, a senior Obama administration official complained in a phone call, advising the celebrated journalist and author that he would "regret" his error. Woodward responded by claiming he had been "threatened" by the White House. There followed much mirth all round, given Woodward's status as the ultimate Washington insider, and de facto court scribe for Republican and Democratic presidents alike. After all, the man had faced real threats when bringing down Richard Nixon: why was he now moaning about the sort of treatment routine for any White House reporter worth his or her salt?

If that seemed an "inside-the-Beltway" flap, so, too, did the complaints from the White House press pool when Obama played a round of golf with Tiger Woods last month. Not only was the pool not informed, but it was barred from the private residential estate in Florida where the historic event took place. Adding insult to injury, the White House reporters were scooped by the gleeful tweets of the man from Golf Digest, who was allowed in.

Again, much ado about nothing, you might think. After all, cannot a man enjoy a weekend of golf in peace? Not if you are the leader of the free world. For the reporters whose job it is to cover Obama, this was a snub too far, prompting the White House Correspondents' Association to issue a formal statement expressing its "extreme frustration" at the "absolute" lack of access to the President for an entire weekend.

Spats between the White House and the press are, of course, nothing new; they are the normal, indeed the proper, state of affairs: "When the press stops abusing me, I'll know I'm in the wrong pew," Harry Truman once remarked. Like Truman and every other of his predecessors, Obama believes the press is obsessed with triviality, controversy and scandal at the expense of serious news. Meanwhile, the press accuses each new administration of having taken office pledging openness and transparency, only to wrap itself ever more tightly in secrecy.

But in Obama's case, this in-built conflict has been especially jarring. The Republicans were right to complain that for a good while he was given kid-glove treatment by much of the media, spared scrutiny on issues for which George W Bush would have been crucified. That Obama is a very private man has only compounded matters. Last night, the President and adversaries were due to poke fun at each other at the annual Gridiron Club dinner, hosted by Washington's media luminaries. But the jokes were unlikely to mask the fact that, as a second-term president facing no more elections, he needs the press less than ever – at least in its traditional form.

During this presidency, the splintering of the old media oligarchy has accelerated, and the White House has tailored its strategy accordingly. Obama pops up regularly on the social media. He gives interviews to local TV and radio stations, he appears on late-night shows and in fireside chats. Not only is Obama very good at it, with his cool humour and laid-back unflappability, but the strategy enables the White House to say that it is meeting its website commitment, to create "the most open and accessible administration in American history".

But quantity is no substitute for quality. For the most part, this is unfiltered spin, not substance. Despite the armies of bloggers and tweeters, for all the proliferation of "new media", the serious news agenda continues to be set by a clutch of major papers: The New York Times, The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal. Yet not one of the trio has been accorded a presidential interview since 2010.

And maybe that omission, too, is starting to catch up with Obama. Endless spin eats away at credibility. Take the rumpus over the sequester, where the White House has tried to pin the blame on the Republicans, and warned of apocalyptic consequences – which, so far at least, have utterly failed to materialise.

True, the Republicans don't win any popularity prizes these days. But according to the polls, the President's approval rating has also tumbled in the past week as the public hold him no less responsible than his opponents for the mess. By no coincidence whatever, in exactly the sort of outreach his critics say has been so lacking, Obama invited a dozen Republican senators to dine with him on Wednesday in the neutral territory of a Washington hotel. Not only that, the White House paid the bill. If he did the same thing with the Washington press, he might buy himself a second honeymoon – and one that's cheap at the price.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

EYFS Teacher

£120 - £162 per day: Randstad Education Hull: Randstad Education require an ex...

Year 3 Teacher

£120 - £162 per day: Randstad Education Hull: Year 3 primary supply teacher ne...

SEN Teacher

£100 - £120 per day: Randstad Education Bristol: Supply special educational ne...

Regional ESF Contract Manager

£32500 - £35000 per annum: Randstad Education Birmingham: European Social Fund...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Jihadist militants leading away captured Iraqi soldiers in Tikrit, Iraq, in June  

Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Robert Fisk
India's philosopher, environmental activist, author and eco feminist Vandana Shiva arrives to give a press conference focused on genetically modified seeds on October 10, 2012  

Meet Vandana Shiva: The deserving heir to Mahatma Ghandi's legacy

Peter Popham
Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape
eBay's enduring appeal: Online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce retailer

eBay's enduring appeal

The online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce site
Culture Minister Ed Vaizey: ‘lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird’

'Lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird'

Culture Minister Ed Vaizey calls for immediate action to address the problem
Artist Olafur Eliasson's latest large-scale works are inspired by the paintings of JMW Turner

Magic circles: Artist Olafur Eliasson

Eliasson's works will go alongside a new exhibition of JMW Turner at Tate Britain. He tells Jay Merrick why the paintings of his hero are ripe for reinvention
Josephine Dickinson: 'A cochlear implant helped me to discover a new world of sound'

Josephine Dickinson: 'How I discovered a new world of sound'

After going deaf as a child, musician and poet Josephine Dickinson made do with a hearing aid for five decades. Then she had a cochlear implant - and everything changed
Greggs Google fail: Was the bakery's response to its logo mishap a stroke of marketing genius?

Greggs gives lesson in crisis management

After a mishap with their logo, high street staple Greggs went viral this week. But, as Simon Usborne discovers, their social media response was anything but half baked
Matthew McConaughey has been singing the praises of bumbags (shame he doesn't know how to wear one)

Matthew McConaughey sings the praises of bumbags

Shame he doesn't know how to wear one. Harriet Walker explains the dos and don'ts of fanny packs
7 best quadcopters and drones

Flying fun: 7 best quadcopters and drones

From state of the art devices with stabilised cameras to mini gadgets that can soar around the home, we take some flying objects for a spin
Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

The midfielder returned to the Premier League after two years last weekend. The controversial character had much to discuss after his first game back
Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

British No 1 knows his consistency as well as his fitness needs working on as he prepares for the US Open after a ‘very, very up and down’ year
Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

A descent into madness in America's heartlands

David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home