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The “New” News War

by on October 12, 2015

After viewing the PBS’ documentary “News War” in class over the course of the last week, and learning more about the hostile relationship that the George W. Bush administration had with the press, I wanted to learn more about the strategy the successor Barack Obama administration where the press has relied more heavily than ever on the use of anonymous sources and a presidential administration that has turned the flow of information into a rationed good.  The question that has developed as a result of this stalemate is what is the duty, if any at all, for the President of the United States to interact with the press?

During the first term of John F. Kennedy’s presidency more than 50 years ago the President held an average of 23 press conferences a year according to a very in depth study by the Columbia Journalism Review, Obama by comparison held five in 2014.  This has created a major problem where reporters are forced into a very limited window of opportunity and constantly engage the President on issues strictly regarding current events and don’t allow for a chance to analyze overarching issues and his larger body of work in the role.  When Obama is forced to respond to a hot button issue he does little to elaborate on the decision-making process and when/if a government response can be expected.   With reporters unable to gather information from the President in press conferences that have the enthusiasm of orating a White House press release is there any point in all of our country’s major news publications still dedicating their best reporters to cover a man who won’t concede any information? I don’t think so.  Obama’s disdain for the press has helped create a further disconnect from the American people, something that the ethos of Republican opponents have been quick to capitalize on.

During the Obama administration the prevalence of social media has further changed the way that President and the press interact.  Hell bent on using press conferences to spread their own agenda, White House ran social media accounts often undercut the press to publication by tweeting/posting talking points before the reporters are able to.  When President Obama had an important decision to announce in December 2013 regarding the state of oil drilling in Alaska he chose to bypass journalists altogether and published a video on the official White House Facebook page.  While it is important to note that this tactic hasn’t become the norm, it creates a dangerous precedent that removes the independent press from the news cycle and creating an omnipotent state run media.

Unfortunately Obama isn’t solely to blame for this breakdown; reporters are at fault as well.  The CJR piece uses the analogy of comparing White House reporters to bad community theater actors who are willing to repeat the same question six times just so THEY can be caught on camera interacting with the President and touching on the “tough” issues, situation after situation where self-image takes precedence over ethical, and integrity filled reporting.

In an age when information is more available than ever across a 24 hour news cycle and publication can occur instantly from a reporter’s cell phone 140 characters at a time it is especially troubling that we are receiving less information regarding how our country is run than ever.  I do believe that it is the duty of the President to supply the American public with information, but it is also the duty of reporters to break through this stalemate and find a way to gather information from the President rather than simply confront him with statements designed to draw an emotional reaction.  If when asked to answer a question the President fails to do so, report it, don’t publish a brainless quote that could be paraphrased from a press release simply for the sake of quoting POTUS.  The sad fact is that White House press conferences now more closely resemble daytime talk shows and the only real losers are us, the American consumers.

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