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Access, bias, herd mentality in Munro incident — the corruption of the White House press corps.
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My predecessors, and even some of the senior staff in my time at the White House, had chummed with journalists, dining with them in the evening and playing tennis with them in the cool of the mornings. I abjured these pleasures.
Regan, an older man of considerable self-made financial success, hated this kind of thing — and so rejected the many invitations to socialize. As a result, Regan became convinced — correctly — that the negative stories about him piled up because the press’s carrot to him was rejected. And that he, Regan, would refuse to leak inside stories to this, that, or the other member of the White House press corps — thus generating his own personal negative press.
In short, what Regan discovered was that there was a direct relationship between leaks to reporters — and favorable coverage of the leaker. There is no accident that people like Jim Baker or Colin Powell or the late Ted Kennedy were afloat in a veritable sea of favorable press.
It is very safe to assume that leaks from the Obama White House — lately on matters of intelligence — are done to generate positive coverage.
And the stick? The stick for the White House is — no access.
For either you or your news organization. None, zero, zip, nada. You can sit there at White House press conferences until the cows come home or hell freezes over, and you will never, ever be recognized by the President when he steps into the White House briefing room or any other place he’s holding a press conference..
The Obama Administration has been compared to the Nixon Administration on occasion, and the Nixon White House and Watergate is a good, non-Obama example of how the carrot and stick game works.
Needless to say, the Nixon White House was unhappy at the Washington Post’s questions and investigation into what became known as the Watergate scandal. When the 1972 election was over, with Nixon beating the leftist Senator George McGovern in a landslide in spite of the Post’s Neil Munro style of coverage, the Nixon White House played the stick end of the carrot-and-stick game.
In their respective memoirs, the Post’s famous Watergate-era Executive Editor Ben Bradlee and the paper’s owner, the late Katharine Graham, wrote of just how the stick end of this game was applied to his paper.
A reporter for the Post’s then competitor (the Washington Star-News has since folded) was told by a senior Nixon aide to “come in with your breadbasket, and we’ll fill it.” Meaning, all the access the Star could possibly want to the world of the Nixon White House was to be granted — to specifically punish the Post. The President’s first exclusive interview in his second term went to — a Star reporter, the Post shut out. A Post reporter — an older woman who covered the First Lady — was “systematically excluded from all pools, where she would have a chance to report directly, rather than accept force-fed handouts.” Nixon himself was captured on the Watergate tapes saying the Post would suffer “damnable, damnable problems.” Graham adds that calls were not returned, administration personnel were forbidden to attend editorial board lunches, and certainly not to accept invitations to dine at Mrs. Graham’s. In short, says, Bradlee, the Post had so displeased the Nixon White House the paper was plunged into a “black hole” — access shut off.
Take a look again at the strange silence from his colleagues surrounding Neil Munro as he asks his question. Take in all the media outrage you are hearing over Munro. What are you really seeing and hearing?
You are seeing a group of supposed professionals caught in the act of playing the carrot-and-stick game. The silence is in reality a most vocal plea for access. “Not me!” it telegraphs to the President and his staff. “I didn’t do it… it was Munro over there.”
These are not journalists…they are White House poodles.
And to make certain that their wagging tails are not missed — various of these people take to the airwaves or print or blogs to condemn Munro. Message: Arf! Arf! More access please!
This carrot and stick dynamic is intended to produce a specific effect — and we have seen evidence of how this works in just this recent incident with Mr. Munro.
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