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Saturday, June 1, 2013

Frank Bruni, "Who Needs Reporters?": Ask Reporters Who Attended Eric Holder's Off-the-Record Discussion

In his latest New York Times op-ed entitled "Who Needs Reporters?" (http://www.nytimes.com/2013/06/02/opinion/sunday/bruni-who-needs-reporters.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0), Frank Bruni tells us that with regard to politicians, journalists "must be able to poke and meddle." Bruni writes:

"Lately we journalists have been agitated, justifiably, by the Obama administration’s prosecution of leakers and spying on the reporters and news organizations who set up or sop up those leaks. It’s an overzealous overreach and a serious threat to our ability to police government, which has shown time and again that it needs policing.

But our role and relevance are arguably even more imperiled by politicians’ ability, in this newly wired world of ours, to go around us and present themselves in packages that we can’t simultaneously unwrap. To get a message out, they don’t have to beseech a network’s indulgence. They don’t have to rely on a newspaper’s attention. The Bachmann, Weiner and Clinton videos are especially vivid examples of that, reflections and harbingers of an era in which YouTube is the public square, and the fourth estate is a borderline obsolescent one.

. . . .

If there’s a trend line at work, it’s of politicians’ being ever more orchestrated and anxious about the establishment of their own narratives (and they were plenty orchestrated from the get-go). President Obama rose to national prominence literally on the power of his own storytelling, with an electrifying convention speech and a best-selling memoir, and has since been emphatic about the polish of his public appearances and the distance at which reporters are kept. He prefers teleprompters and the soft focus of 'The View,' Letterman and 'Entertainment Tonight' to potentially messy interactions with political reporters."

Frank, are you really so surprised by this trend? There is a saying that "a fish rots from the head down." Listen to Obama adviser Anita Dunn at an event focusing on the president’s tactics, hosted by the Global Foundation for Democracy and Development, in which Dunn discusses how Obama controlled the media during the 2008 election (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NlGNhAnwp_Y):

"One of the reasons we did so many of the David Plouffe [Obama’s chief campaign manager] videos was not just for our supporters, but also because it was a way for us to get our message out without having to actually talk to reporters. We just put that out there and made them write what Plouffe had said as opposed to Plouffe doing an interview with a reporter. So it was very much we controlled it as opposed to the press controlled it. . . . very rarely did we communicate through the press anything that we didn’t absolutely control."

More recently, consider how many news organizations were willing to attend Eric Holder's "off-the-record" meeting on Thursday, concerning the scandals involving AP and Fox News.

By the way, at least this once The New York Times got it right - they refused to participate in this discussion, intended to win back media sympathy, but not intended for public consumption (see: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/michael-calderone/whos-attending-holders-off-the-record-meeting_b_3359562.html?utm_hp_ref=media).

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