Gawker White House Press Corps Critic Should Maybe Learn Something About The White House Press Corps


mediaite_thumbLately, Gawker has been working overtime lecturing other media outlets about their ethics, even casting a jaundiced eye in our direction. They also ran 2 pieces attacking, alternately, Politico’s Mike Allen and the White House press corps for attending an off-the-record 4th of July event at the White House.

As it turns out, Gawker’s outrage is really a fireworks display in a teacup, and their standing to question other reporters’ integrity wouldn’t fill a teaspoon.

Gawker’s investigative reporter, John Cook, published a fairly scathing expose’ of the White House press corps’ highjinks at this year’s White House 4th of July celebration, calling the press corps whiners and questioning their independence in the process:

These are the same people who just a week ago were whining in the press briefing about Obama’s malicious and dastardly attempts to “control the press.” (Well, not the self-same people—we’re not sure if Chip Reid and Helen Thomas, the primary antagonists in that exchange, were in attendance.)

…What doesn’t make sense, at all, is why a group of reporters who have recently begun clinging to the notion that they are independent of Washington’s clubby morass of back-scratching self-congratulation would agree to attend an off-the-record party at the White House while one of their own is walled off in a pen like some forlorn scapegoat, doing the job they’re supposed to be doing.

It would have been fairly easy for Cook to check and see that Reid was not in attendance, nor were any of the traveling press. They were prepping for the President’s overseas trip.

In another piece, Cook singles out Politico’s Mike Allen for letting his colleague, Paul West, eat cake during the festivities, and offers this critique of Allen’s White House coverage:

Allen’s claustrophobic, minutiae-obsessed manner of covering the White House—sniveling and attention-seeking one minute, petty and vicious the next—kind of reminds us of our own family sometimes, so it makes sense he’d rate an invite.

About that minutiae (what we in the biz call facts), here are a few bits of it that Cook left out.

Cook, who has written obsequiously about the President, was an Obama volunteer during the primaries. (Cook confirmed this to me via email.) Does he really have standing to slam journalists for attending an off-the-record event at the White House? Such an event, while almost certainly not newsworthy, would provide attendees with a valuable opportunity to develop, or cement, productive relationships. Only a fool would pass it up.

However, Cook’s inference wasn’t merely that the press corps was “in the tank” for Obama, but rather that they had sold their journalistic souls for hot dogs and beer. This notion is softened by another fact that Cook omits: Attendance by the press corps at the fireworks display is a longstanding tradition, dating back at least to the Carter administration, according to several correspondents I spoke with.

While it is undeniably amusing to have a pool reporter providing the only coverage of an event swarming with reporters, there’s nothing sinister or secretive about it. The White House streamed live coverage of the event, including shots of those in attendance. Not exactly the work of TASS. I know if I’d been there, without this stipulation, I would have spent the entire time annoying the crap out of every administration official, political leader, and Foo Fighter at the thing, and nobody would have had any fun.

On the other hand, had something truly newsworthy happened at the event, we have a system in place for that, the same as with any off-the-record source or event. But is Mike Allen really supposed to burn the White House in order to report what Dave Grohl puts on his hot dog?

Finally, the poor, left-out pool reporter was actually invited to the event, but was unable to attend, save for his pool assignment. Cook also doesn’t make clear that the “onerous restrictions” under which he covered the event are only onerous when compared with those of a guest. Reporters at these events are always “penned off,” as I painfully learned when I got to watch, from afar, as Bobby Flay grilled up succulent ribeye steaks at the White House’s Father’s Day barbecue.

I’m not saying that you have to be Jesus R. Murrow in order to be a media critic. If so, I’m in deep trouble. All I’m saying is this: If you’re going to slam White House reporters for allegedly falling down on the job, you ought to first demonstrate an understanding of what that job is.

Tommy Christopher is a freelance writer, blogger, and online journalist based out of New Jersey and Washington, DC. He has covered the progressive political scene and the historic 2008 elections, including live coverage from the Democratic National Convention in Denver, and becoming a freelance White House reporter in early 2009. This move follows a year in which he was able to break a number of big stories and was quoted in print and online by everyone from the LA Times and the New York Times to the Huffington Post and Hot Air. Tommy can also be found at his own blog: Follow him on Twitter here.

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