Editorial: Hailing Down the Chief - Broadcasting & Cable

Editorial: Hailing Down the Chief

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The Obama Administration is all about transparency and access. At least that is the talk. OK, and some action. The president has put reams of government info online, launched an online effort to allow the public to file petitions, and he makes pool reports of White House activities available outside the pool.

But Obama himself has not been as accessible as he might be to the national media of late—that is, if you ask some of the White House correspondents who cover him, along with a national broadcasting and cable business publication of our acquaintance.

As a magazine and website that serves local TV stations, we can’t complain about the president choosing to make his pitch to the public on the sequester debacle through local TV station news outlets, or what CNN’s Wolf Blitzer called an “end-around the national press,” as he did last week.

Certainly the National Association of Broadcasters wasn’t complaining. It issued an e-mail alert, just in case journalists on the media beat had missed the point. Under the headline “The Power of Local Broadcasting,” the NAB said it wanted to make sure we knew that the president was using the power of local TV stations to “get his message out on the harm that sequestration could do to the economy,” particularly those covering the incentive auctions and the “FCC efforts to reclaim additional spectrum from local TV broadcasters….”

But that targeted local TV outreach, combined with the lack of White House press corps access to Obama’s golf outing with Tiger Woods last week, has drawn some criticism.

White House press secretary Jay Carney, a former White House reporter himself, deflected that in a press conference with some pretty impressive figures. President Obama has held 35 press conferences, compared to George W. Bush’s 19 over eight years. He has also given 591 interviews, including 104 with major TV networks.

“So I think that it is clear that we are making an effort to provide access to make sure that the president is being questioned by reporters, and anchors, and others, and we’ll continue to do that,” Carney said.

But for all those numbers, the press corps was not feeling the love last week, questioning the transparency the administration is always so high on and pointing out some recent meetings that they had not received read-outs on until later or had not been informed of in advance. Carney said “there’s never been a White House press corps that’s ever been wholly satisfied with the level of access that they’ve been afforded.” Perhaps, but we know where they are coming from.

Although candidate Obama agreed to weigh in with this magazine on communications issues, the White House press office turned down subsequent requests for interviews, including on the digital transition and the president’s relative silence on that issue —even though it affects millions of minority, senior and low-income viewers.

But we take Carney at his word that the White House is making an effort to provide access, and so will publicly renew our request for an interview about broadband deployment, cybersecurity or any of the other communications-related issues that they want to, well, tee up.

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