Helen Thomas Calls Obama Press Treatment Worse Than Nixon; WaPo Selling ‘Off the Record’ White House Access to Lobbyists

Posted: 3 July 2009 by Little Alex in National News, Political Science
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“President Barack Obama answered pre-selected questions Wednesday afternoon about health care sent in from emails, Facebook and Twitter. CBS’ Chip Reid and columnist Helen Thomas thought this reflected a lack of transparency at the White House,” reports The Raw Story, as The Washington Post gets busted selling secret access to the White House and Congress.

From the White House Daily Press Briefing – 1 July 09 (4:20):

Nixon wasn’t this bad

Ms. Thomas has been a White House correspondent since the Kennedy Administration and spoke with CNS News, shortly after this exchange:

“Nixon didn’t try to do that,” Thomas said. “They couldn’t control (the media). They didn’t try.

“What the hell do they think we are, puppets?” Thomas said. “They’re supposed to stay out of our business. They are our public servants. We pay them.”

Thomas said she was especially concerned about the arrangement between the Obama Administration and a writer from the liberal Huffington Post Web site. The writer was invited by the White House to President Obama’s press conference last week on the understanding that he would ask Obama a question about Iran from among questions that had been sent to him by people in Iran.

“When you call the reporter the night before you know damn well what they are going to ask to control you,” Thomas said.

“I’m not saying there has never been managed news before, but this is carried to fare-thee-well — for the town halls, for the press conferences,” she said. “It’s blatant. They don’t give a damn if you know it or not. They ought to be hanging their heads in shame.”

“I’m told that when President Obama meets journalists, the lucky reporters are often told in advance that they will have the chance to ask a question,” retired Chief White House Correspondent for ABC News Sam Donaldson told The Washington Post (WaPo) in February. “Is the message to ‘think carefully about what you ask,’ or, as Goldfinger put it to Agent 007 when he lay strapped to the laser table, ‘Choose your next witticism carefully, Mr. Bond, it may be your last’?

“When people tell me how brilliantly President Obama and his people are handling the press, I just smile. Wait awhile.”

WaPo selling lobbyists secret access to policymakers

POLITICO did a report on a “Salon” that was to be hosted by WaPo for lobbyists to meet with Obama Administration officials and legislators “off the record” for $25,000 to $250,000 to underwrite upcoming healthcare legislation. The “Salon” — for which the purpose was to “[bring] together those powerful few in business and policy-making who are forwarding, legislating and reporting on the issues,” according to the flier — was cancelled on Thursday.

WaPo Publisher Katharine Weymouth was to host the “Salon” said, “We’re not going to do any dinners that would impugn the integrity of the newsroom.”

“We will never compromise our journalistic integrity,” Ms. Weymoth continued in reference to whether this could be seen as buying journalists. “I suppose you could spin it that way, but that is not the way it would have been done.”

The New York Times (NYT) reports that WaPo “editors and reporters reacted with dismay”. But, even if this isn’t about buying journalists, the heart of the flier’s controversy is in this heading: “Bring your organization’s CEO or executive director literally to the table. Interact with key Obama Administration and Congressional leaders…” The NYT called it a “Pay-For-Chat Plan,” not a “Pay-For-Good-Press Plan”, as Ms. Thomas was partially referring to regarding The Huffington Post‘s special access.

Acting as a middleman between lobbyists and the Washington policymakers — for a charge — with the promise that it will be “off the record” is exactly being bought. The attendees buy the silence of the WaPo editors present at the Salon.

When questioned about the Salon, Mr. Gibbs played stupid, but WaPo makes it very clear that such Salons are commonplace to be organized by media, though NYT officials have said they’ve only “considered holding paid business-sponsored forums involving Times journalists, but only on conditions that would avoid any real or apparent conflicts of interest” (my emphasis).

The NYT reports that The Wall Street Journal “gathers executives and others for ‘informal but pointed conversations’ for an audience of paying customers” and POLITICO hosted a panel in 2007, sponsored by the ACLU at George Washington University.

Is WaPo saying that such assemblies are simply commonplace or that it’s commonplace for such gatherings to be “off the record”? WaPo lost $19.5m in the first quarter of this year and the NYT are set to lose $85m this year. At $250k per head, not a bad way to bring in some revenue.

Secrecy, not access, is what’s for sale

Are we really to believe that such prices for access to White House and Congressional officials would be paid without “off the record” terms in the deal? Lobbyists don’t need to pay the mainstream media gatekeepers to host “Salons”. Lobbyists need to pay for the media to not report such gatherings to the rest of us, the sheeple.

The very definition of a “salon” is a gathering of the elite. The intellectual class is headed by gatekeepers such as the NYT and WaPo. This status is of high value for a large reason that anything carries high value — the scarcity of those carrying the status. Allowing transparency to a “Salon” doesn’t really make it a “Salon”; that would just make it a ‘forum’ or ‘summit’.

It takes a lot of effort to believe that secret meetings — where the political class buys the secrecy of the intellectual class — like these aren’t commonplace. It requires a lot of really hard work to miss this stuff.

It takes a lot of ignorance to believe that this presidency isn’t as clandestine — for sinister reasons — as any other, if not more than any other, to only make you believe our president’s a funny guy with a nice smile and a beautiful family. Don’t look at the expansion of the American Empire, covering up the Bush Administration’s war crimes, plans to lawlessly kidnap any human being for any amount of time, and the pile of corpses building up in the corner of the room.

Why base democracy for rational beings on reality when you can be a dumbed-down gorilla sucking down an illusion, with the precious privilege so graciously granted by the ruler to pull one lever or another every four years? Because the Democratic State isn’t just “a looting and killing machine”, as Lew Rockwell, Jr. points out. The Democratic State is a looting and killing machine that has to work double time to conceal its sin.

With our current monetary policy written by bankers, foreign policy written by the military industrial complex, and the coming healthcare policy to be written by pharmaceutical companies, it’s the secrecy within the fourth branch of government — the media — that makes us broke, dead, and dying as long people hold to the belief that the lever they pull every four years has any say in the matter. The only surprise left is the remaining existence of that childish belief.

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