About the Coziness of the White House Press Corps

I don't know about this first hand -- I've never tried to cover the Obama White House, I don't know many of the people who are on the WH beat these days. But based on what I have known over the years, Steve Clemons' critique this morning rings true to me.

Steve's argument is that the eternal White House game -- trading access-to-inside-sources for generally positive coverage -- has been intensified by the number of reporters planning to do dishy books about the Obama administration. Those books become more or less valuable based on how many inside details and anecdotes they contain. The inside anecdotes become more or less available based on whether the reporters are seen as friendly or hostile. Again, this is a very long-standing situation and source of distortion. And considering the number of groups with a built-in berserk hostility to Obama, maybe it is karmic balance.

But his item is worth reading as a reality check, and also because it includes a link to a very good assessment of the Obama administration's foreign policy, by Daniel Dombey and Edward Luce of the Financial Times. Saying so represents a karmic balance of its own, my having tusseled with Luce before about his approach toward Obama. His and Dombey's argument now is that Obama's confidence in his own judgment (which I generally admire - both the judgment and the confidence) has become the only organizing principle of the Administration.

Mr Obama has built a machine in which all roads lead to and from him. On the minus side, that means a lot of lower-level meetings without decisions. It also means neglecting issues that cannot be squeezed into his diary, such as trade policy, which continues to drift; or relations with India, which are unnecessarily tense.

And it means that the fingerprints of Mr Obama's political inner circle are detected by the rumour mill even when they are absent, such as on the president's decision to begin the troop withdrawal from Afghanistan in July 2011 - a recommendation that came from Robert Gates, secretary of defence.

On the plus side, Mr Obama has a sharp learning curve, which means his administration continues to evolve. On the plus side also, if it has to be White House-centric, it is perhaps better with him as the Sun King than, say, Nixon or George W. Bush.

I am saying this from a distance, but this assessment sounds likely-to-prove-true to me, compared with a lot of other minute-by-minute inside details. Worth reading -- both the Clemons item and the FT article.

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James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. His latest book is China Airborne. More

James Fallows is based in Washington as a national correspondent for The Atlantic. He has worked for the magazine for nearly 30 years and in that time has also lived in Seattle, Berkeley, Austin, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, and Beijing. He was raised in Redlands, California, received his undergraduate degree in American history and literature from Harvard, and received a graduate degree in economics from Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. In addition to working for The Atlantic, he has spent two years as chief White House speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, two years as the editor of US News & World Report, and six months as a program designer at Microsoft. He is an instrument-rated private pilot. He is also now the chair in U.S. media at the U.S. Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, in Australia.

Fallows has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award five times and has won once; he has also won the American Book Award for nonfiction and a N.Y. Emmy award for the documentary series Doing Business in China. He was the founding chairman of the New America Foundation. His recent books Blind Into Baghdad (2006) and Postcards From Tomorrow Square (2009) are based on his writings for The Atlantic. His latest book is China Airborne. He is married to Deborah Fallows, author of the recent book Dreaming in Chinese. They have two married sons.

Fallows welcomes and frequently quotes from reader mail sent via the "Email" button below. Unless you specify otherwise, we consider any incoming mail available for possible quotation -- but not with the sender's real name unless you explicitly state that it may be used. If you are wondering why Fallows does not use a "Comments" field below his posts, please see previous explanations here and here.

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