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Saturday, August 9, 2014

The Presidency and the News Media

AT Rolling Stone, former Obama press aide Reid Cherlin writes:
Obama, during his two campaigns for the presidency, had made a point of going over the heads of the media (denigrated as "the filter") and communicating directly with voters. With Obama in office, reporters have complained that the approach has sometimes bordered on pathology.

Meanwhile, the press corps itself, under immense financial and technological pressure, is in the process of remaking itself to fit a polarized country where users increasingly choose opinionated news sources that suit their own tastes. The result, six years into the Obama term, is that the administration and the press are in essence tweeting past each other, even as each decries its treatment at the hands of the other. The White House suspects that reporters intentionally sensationalize their stories; reporters suspect that the White House plays with the facts to get its message out. Both suspicions are correct.
The president is nominally in charge of so much that it often feels like the power dynamic inverts, and that the White House exists to take blame for the misdeeds of others – very often agencies or bureaucrats over which you have essentially zero control. Nowhere is that frustration felt more than in the press office. "At the White House we have to have an answer for everything," says [Jay] Carney, the recently departed press secretary. "Events that are completely organic and are not in your control and you don't have a lot of levers of power to affect become things you have to answer for very quickly."
And then there is Twitter, which is now the premier driver of a news cycle that boils around the clock. In an erosion of traditional editorial neutrality, reporters take to Twitter not just to break stories but also to break half-stories, or rumors, or just retweet another reporter's tweet about a possible development. It's a kind of accelerating group-reporting that blurs traditional ideas of journalistic responsibility. "The intensity of the way stories break and become huge deals," Carney says, "and on the back end the way they burn out more quickly, too" – as the hive moves on to the next item of interest – "that's totally new."